Sun v. University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

Case Adopted 12/10

Case Update (7/14)
In May 2014, the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination (MCAD) upheld a ruling in favor of Lulu Sun in her gender and race discrimination case against the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. In June 2011 an MCAD hearing officer concluded that the university had violated Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination laws and ordered the university to 1) promote Sun, with retroactive back pay, 2) pay $200,000 in emotional distress damages, plus 12 percent interest from the date the complaint was filed, 3) pay the commonwealth of Massachusetts a $10,000 civil penalty, and 4) conduct an anti-discrimination training for its human resources staff, the dean of the UMass Dartmouth College of Arts and Sciences, the provost, and the chancellor.

After the June 2011 decision, the university promoted Sun to the position of full professor but appealed the emotional distress award, the civil penalty, and the anti-discriminatory training requirements to the full commission. In its most recent ruling the commission upheld the MCAD hearing officer’s decision, ordering the university to pay the emotional distress damages award and civil penalty and to conduct anti-discrimination training.

The university conceded any further appeal, meaning that the MCAD’s ruling in Sun’s favor will stand. We are proud to have supported Sun’s case and congratulate her on this final ruling.

Case Background

Lulu Sun, an English professor, alleged sex and race discrimination in the promotion process at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Sun filed charges with the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination (MCAD), which found probable cause for a case claiming discrimination based on gender, race, and national origin as well as subsequent retaliation. Sun sought a promotion and damages for these injustices in addition to an order from the MCAD that the university administration must undertake training in diversity and anti-discrimination and actively recruit and promote women faculty, especially women of color.

The public hearing was held in December, 2010 and January, 2011. AAUW offered financial support to the case.


Exclusive Interview with AAUW Plaintiff

This interview originally appeared as a blog for AAUW on July 28, 2011.

Lulu Sun recently won her Legal Advocacy Fund-supported lawsuit against the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. She accused the school of discriminating against her on the basis of gender, race, and national origin and of retaliating against her for complaining.

An English professor, Sun filed charges with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), which found probable cause for her case. After a public hearing, the hearing officer ordered the promotion of Sun to full professor, awarded her lost wages, and charged the university with a civil penalty. The full decision is available online.

While Sun’s case received a lot of press coverage after the announcement, today she is speaking out about the case for the first time since the decision was announced.

AAUW: What motivated you to pursue justice through this lawsuit?

SUN: I really had no choice or recourse. If I wanted to be treated fairly and non-discriminatorily, I had to take the legal route. The current administration would never promote me, regardless of the strength of my dossier. To quote a sentence from the MCAD decision, “The deck was stacked against complainant in her bid to become a full professor.”

AAUW: What is it like to continue teaching at UMass Dartmouth?

SUN: I have enjoyed and still enjoy teaching at UMass Dartmouth. I have good friends and colleagues there. Since the MCAD decision came out, almost everyone I have run into has congratulated me. I have received numerous e-mail messages from friends, colleagues, and strangers congratulating me. A number of people even wrote that they cried when they read the story in the newspapers.

My case will have an impact. It has never been about me only. I kept thinking about all the marginalized and disenfranchised women at the university — women who filed complaints internally and externally as well as women who did not file any complaints. Many of these women did not have a voice. Some were silenced, others gave up, and still others left the university. It is my hope that my case will help to make the university a fairer and more equitable institution.

Creating this type of institutional change is exactly the kind of impact AAUW hopes LAF cases can have in addition to helping plaintiffs obtain personal justice. While Sun has achieved this important victory, her fight is not over. The university has indicated that it will appeal the decision. Please consider donating to LAF to help Sun as she continues her nearly decade-long fight for justice and to help support other important cases.