Court Case: Lovell v. Regents of the University of California, et al.

Case History

Margaretta Lovell, a former assistant professor in the History of Art Department at the University of California at Berkeley, sued the Regents of the University of California for sex discrimination in the denial of tenure, retaliation for protesting alleged discriminatory practices, and other claims in violation of California state laws.

Lovell began her employment at the university in 1981 with a two-year appointment as a half-time assistant professor in the History of Art Department and a half-time curator of American paintings at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Her appointment was renewed in 1983 and again in 1985, at which time she was converted to a full-time assistant professor in the department. In 1986, the tenured faculty of the department reviewed Lovell’s candidacy for tenure and recommended her for tenure by a majority vote. However, Lovell alleged that just a few days later, the department chair told other faculty that Lovell had made a prejudicial comment to him in a private meeting, and that this led faculty to write negative letters for her tenure review file. Lovell vehemently denied making any such comment, and further asserted that the negative letters included in her tenure file violated university rules in several respects.

In 1987, the university chancellor made a “tentative negative” decision regarding Lovell’s tenure candidacy, citing insufficient research productivity. Lovell received a two-year terminal contract that would make her termination effective in 1989, unless the university granted her tenure in the interim, which would be based upon additional articles or publications that Lovell needed to submit to the chancellor for review. Lovell alleged that despite both her repeated requests and those of the chancellor’s office that the History of Art Department forward these supplemental documents, the department failed to do so. She further alleged that the department deliberately stated falsely to the chancellor’s office that no new documents were available to add to Lovell’s tenure file, a representation that adversely affected her tenure decision.

Lovell’s department gave her a second tenure review during the 1988-89 academic year. She stated that the department committed procedural irregularities throughout the process, and voted unanimously to recommend that she be denied tenure — a large departure from the department’s initial vote a couple of years earlier. University officials informed Lovell in 1989 that she would be denied tenure and offered her a one-year terminal contract that ended in 1990. She subsequently filed an internal grievance with the university’s privilege and tenure committee, which unanimously recommended that Lovell be granted tenure without further review. However, the university affirmed the department’s recommendation.

Lovell alleged that the university applied higher standards to her during her tenure review — specifically in the area of research productivity — than it did to successful, predominantly male, tenure candidates. The university’s Title IX officer at the time came to a similar conclusion upon her review of Lovell’s record. Lovell also maintained that the university committed procedural irregularities, withheld information from her, and ultimately denied her tenure after her second review in retaliation for her opposition to higher standards that the department allegedly applied to female graduate students than to their male counterparts.

Lovell filed her complaint in state court in 1990. She reached a settlement with the university in 1992.

Key Issues

Sex discrimination in the denial of tenure and retaliation for protesting alleged discriminatory practices in violation of California state laws.