Court Case: Russell v. The Trustees of Princeton University

Case adopted 10/05


Case History

Lynn Russell, a former assistant professor in the chemical engineering department at Princeton University, sued the trustees of Princeton University for sex discrimination in the denial of tenure, retaliation for complaining of sex discrimination, and other claims under New Jersey state law.

In January of 1997, Russell began a three-year appointment as an assistant professor in Princeton’s chemical engineering department. At the end of the appointment, Princeton renewed Russell’s contract for another three year term with the agreement that she would submit her tenure application in the last year of the contract. Russell submitted her tenure application in fall of 2002 for review by the tenured faculty of the department, comprised of 13 men and 2 women. The faculty voted to deny Russell tenure within the department, which was affirmed by the faculty advisory committee on appointments and advancements. She subsequently appealed to the university’s committee on conference and appeal, who decided not to reconsider the decision in June of 2003. Russell states that to date, she has not received a final determination from the president of the university. Although the university gave her a one-year terminal contract, Russell declined the offer and left Princeton in July of 2003.

Russell maintains that the chairman in her department at the time of her employment treated her worse than her male colleagues and intentionally interfered with her tenure review. She believes that despite her excellent scholarship, teaching, and service, the chairman did not want her to receive tenure and supported this view by failing to treat student complaints in accordance with university policy. The appeal committee found that around March 2001, the university erroneously terminated her undergraduate advising responsibilities based largely in part on the chairman’s views, which were never investigated, and which she was not given an opportunity to address. Furthermore, she alleges that in the tenure review, the chairman exaggerated and misrepresented complaints from two students and encouraged the rest of the voting faculty to give these complaints significant weight, while discounting numerous positive student letters contrary to university tenure procedures.

Russell alleges that Princeton fosters a poor climate form women in science and engineering fields. Currently, only 2 out of 20 faculty in Princeton’s chemical engineering department are women, and Russell states than only one woman has ever been promoted to tenure within the department.

Russell filed her complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey in December of 2003.

Key Case Issues

Sex discrimination in the denial of tenure and retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.