Court Case: Patricia Jean Harris O’Connor v. The Curators of the University of Missouri System, et al.

Case History

Patricia O’Connor, associate professor of law and former director of the law library at the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC), sued the institution for sex discrimination and retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and pay inequity in violation of the Equal Pay Act.

UMKC hired O’Connor in 1988 as a tenure-track assistant professor of law and director of the law library. In 1994 she received tenure and promotion to associate professor of law, maintaining her directorship. UMKC hired Burnelle Powell as dean of the law school in July 1995; with his appointment, he became O’Connor’s supervisor in her directorship. O’Connor claimed that in the summer of 1997, Powell began to change the terms, conditions, and scope of her employment, significantly increasing and expanding her duties while providing no additional compensation. O’Connor further alleged that her requests for administrative support were continually denied, leaving her as the only female administrator without this support.

O’Connor stated that UMKC treated males more favorably than she was treated. Specifically, she claimed that a librarian at the law library received more favorable treatment from UMKC officials even though he allegedly made threats to the health and safety of O’Connor in a memo to some of those same officials. O’Connor contended that while knowing of the existence of these threats, UMKC officials promoted the male employee to associate director of the law library and instructed him to report directly to Powell, thereby bypassing O’Connor’s supervision. Additionally, O’Connor alleged that UMKC officials treated her even more poorly after she began experiencing medical problems in 2000. She contended that in May 2001, UMKC officials demanded that she take disability severance from the university; she refused to do this.

O’Connor’s hostile work environment persisted, and she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Missouri Commission on Human Rights in June 2001 alleging sex and disability discrimination and retaliation for complaining about the discrimination. One month later, UMKC terminated O’Connor from her directorship and reduced her salary to the level of her faculty position. O’Connor cited that males who had dual administrative and faculty positions were able to retain their combined salaries even when they have left their administrative positions.

O’Connor filed her complaint in federal court in 2002. The parties reached a confidential settlement in June 2004.

Key Issues

Sex discrimination and retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and pay inequity in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.