Court Case: Falk v. University of Judaism

Case History

Marcia Falk, former associate professor of literature and creative writing at the University of Judaism in California, sued the university for sex discrimination, retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination, and other claims under California state laws. She also sued individual defendants in their official capacities for other claims.

Falk began her employment at the university in 1984 as a tenure-track associate professor in literature and creative writing. She was already a widely published poet, translator, and feminist critic in her field. She states that at the time she was hired, university officials assured her that she would be considered for tenure and promotion to full professor in the second year of her employment. At the time of her hire, no woman had ever been granted tenure.

Falk submitted her tenure application for review in the fall of 1985, and alleged that procedural irregularities occurred throughout the review, which spanned nearly two academic years. For instance, the evaluating committee insisted on anonymity from the beginning of the review, although the university’s published procedures for tenure and promotion did not have such a requirement. Additionally, Falk alleged that the committee distorted favorable evaluations by external reviewers and would not allow her to examine the documents in question. In spring 1987, the evaluating committee concluded its review of Falk’s tenure application and recommended that Falk be denied tenure. The university’s president approved the committee’s recommendation shortly thereafter. Falk submitted an appeal to the president, who upheld his earlier decision. Falk accepted a terminal contract with the university that ended in 1988.

Falk maintained that the university took issue with her feminist views and discriminated against her based on her gender by subjecting her to an irregular tenure review and ultimately denying her tenure. She alleged that similarly situated males were not subjected to the same treatment in the tenure process. Following an investigation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined in 1990 that there was reasonable cause to believe that Falk’s allegations of sex discrimination and retaliation for objecting to the denial of equal opportunity for women were true. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) also performed an investigation into Falk’s tenure review and found that procedural irregularities in her review amounted to violations of several AAUP provisions.

Falk filed suit in California state court in 1988. She reached a confidential settlement with the university in 1990.

Key Issues

Sex discrimination in the denial of tenure and retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination in violation of California state laws.