Court Case: McMahon v. Carroll College

Case adopted 02/04


Case History

Charlene McMahon, assistant professor in the department of chemistry at Carroll College in Wisconsin, sued the institution for sex discrimination in the denial of tenure, and retaliation for complaining about the discrimination, under Title VII and Title IX.

In 2000, Carroll College hired McMahon in a tenure-track position along with her husband, who also obtained a tenure-track position in the chemistry department. Near the end of 2001, the college administration asked the McMahons and a male tenure-track professor in the chemistry department if any of them would be willing to accept a non-tenure-track position in the department instead of continuing through the tenure review. None of them accepted the offer.

McMahon, her husband, and the other tenure-track professor applied for tenure in August 2002. All three were recommended for tenure by her department chair and by the college’s promotion and tenure committee. A short while after the committee’s favorable recommendation, McMahon learned that she was pregnant and informed the college administration of this new development.

In early 2003, the college’s board of trustees granted tenure to McMahon’s husband and the other tenure-track professor, but denied tenure to McMahon. McMahon maintains that she was at least as qualified as the two male applicants in her department. She appealed the board’s decision, citing that she had been wrongfully denied tenure on the basis of her gender, pregnancy, and marital status.

After she submitted her appeal, McMahon asked the administration if she would be able to seek the non-tenure-track position in the chemistry department that she and the others had previously been offered. She alleges that the administration informed her that she would neither be able to apply for or be offered the position at that time. McMahon’s contract with the college is set to expire at the end of the 2003-2004 academic year.

McMahon filed her complaint in federal court in December 2003. In 2004, the court granted the college’s motion to transfer venue from the court in the Western District of Wisconsin to the court in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

In a separate but related matter to McMahon’s ongoing suit in federal court, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that McMahon was retaliated against for complaining about sex discrimination by declining to consider her for the non-tenure-track position within her department, even after she had applied for the position through a public posting. The parties reached a settlement agreement.

Key Case Issues

Sex discrimination in the denial of tenure, and retaliation for complaining about the sex discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.