Court Case: S.D. v. James Madison University

Case History

S.D., a former assistant professor in the College of Business at James Madison University (JMU), sued the university for sex discrimination in the hiring process.

JMU hired S.D. in 1998 as an assistant professor of management in a renewable term position. In 2000, S.D. learned that JMU was hiring for two tenure-track assistant professors of management — newly created positions in the College of Business. Because S.D. had been admirably performing the duties of the position for the past two years, she applied. S.D.’s chances were heightened when one of the four candidates for the two positions withdrew from consideration before the interview process. Following this occurrence, S.D. — the only internal candidate — and two male candidates were left to compete for the two new positions.

During the interview process, many members of the department — most of whom were male — questioned her largely on her family life and asked her few questions about her professional experience or abilities to perform the duties of the position. Eventually, the two male candidates were offered the tenure-track positions. However, when one declined the offer, S.D. was not offered the remaining position. She was the only candidate interviewed who was not offered a position, even though she was ranked second by the search committee after its initial screening process.

After the final decisions had been made, S.D. learned from a handful of colleagues that some members of the search committee made negative comments about her assertiveness and confidence, though these same qualities were discussed in a positive light in regard to the two remaining male candidates. One such colleague, a male assistant professor in the department hired to teach employment law, voiced concerns during the selection meetings and eventually approached the university’s administration about the situation. That year, the university declined to renew his contract.

In response to the outcome of the hiring process, S.D. filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency determined that there was reason to believe that S.D. was subjected to sex discrimination in the hiring process. In 2002, S.D. filed suit against James Madison University in federal court. She reached a settlement with the institution in 2004.

Key Issue

Discrimination in the hiring process