Court Case: Janet Conney v. The Regents of the University of California et al.

Case adopted 6/04


Case History

Janet Conney, a former assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital (UCLA), sued the Regents of the University of California and UCLA for sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining of discrimination under California state laws, and pay inequity under both the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and California state laws. She also sued three former male colleagues individually for other claims.

In 1998, Conney received a geriatric psychiatry fellowship position at UCLA where she researched, published, and was mentored by senior colleagues. The department director offered her a promotion to assistant clinical professor within the department in February 2001 for compensation of $103,000. Conney accepted and signed a contract for this promotion.

Conney claims that beginning in spring 2001, three of her male colleagues — including one of her supervisors — created a hostile work environment for her. She states that the supervisor was overly critical of her work and made disparaging comments about her to other doctors and secretaries in the department. She also states that the other two male colleagues — physicians at her rank — made suggestive comments to her about her body. Conney claims that she was subjected to this treatment throughout the rest of her employment at UCLA.

In July 2001, when UCLA did not receive grant funds in a timely manner, UCLA officials informed Conney that they would not be able to give her the promotion to assistant clinical professor. Conney alleges that although she was reassigned as a 2/3-time employee with a reduced salary of $66,000, she maintained a full-time schedule. She later learned that similarly situated male co-workers were paid 50-100% more than she, and that they applied for and were offered promotions that she was told would not be available.

In March 2002, the director of Conney’s department informed Conney that her job status was uncertain. She lodged complaints with the human resources department in April and June 2002 with few results. UCLA declined to renew her contract in June 2002. Conney states that in the months following her departure, the institution withheld her last paycheck and failed to pay out to her accrued vacation time as further retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination.

Conney filed her complaint in California state court in 2003. On July 27, 2004, a California superior court jury awarded Conney a total of $2.95 million in damages and found that UCLA violated California state laws by discriminating against Conney on the basis of her sex. The jury also found in favor of Conney’s charge that the university retaliated against her after she protested the treatment she received.

In August 2004, the defendants filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), or in the alternative, a partial JNOV on the economic damages verdict. The defendants also filed a motion for a new trial. In October 2004, the court denied both motions. The defendants appealed the trial court’s decision to the Court of Appeal of California in December 2004. In September 2005, the university filed their appeal brief contesting the original verdict. Conney’s attorney filed a response in January 2006. In Spring 2006, the California Supreme Court decided not to hear the university’s appeal brief contesting the original verdict. Conney’s received an award of $4.07 million.

Key Issues

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about discrimination in violation of California state laws; pay inequity in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and California state laws.