Court Case: Towers v. State University of New York at Stony Brook

Case adopted 11/07

Case Update (12/08):
The case settled.

Case History

Dr. Sherry Towers began her employment as a postdoctoral employee with the Stony Brook physics department in September 2000. She was based at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago, Illinois, where she performed research on the Dzero experiment. Her initial contract was for a year; her contract was renewed every year up to 2004. Dr. Towers states that it is normal in her field for postdoctoral positions to last about five years.

In November 2002, Dr. Towers received a promotion and pay raise from Stony Brook. Shortly after this, Dr. Towers states that she told her supervisor, Professor Hobbs, that she was pregnant and due in spring 2003. Dr. Towers alleges that Professor Hobbs told her she was not allowed to take childbirth leave if she wanted to receive future recommendations from him.

In March 2003, after Dr. Towers was invited to apply for a tenure-track faculty position at Purdue University, Professor Hobbs wrote her a letter of recommendation and Dr. Towers received a job offer, though she claims it is for a lesser job than the one she wanted because of the recommendation.

Dr. Towers states that at Professor Hobbs’ insistence, in April 2003, she began working the day after her child was born from home and returned to work full time two weeks later. Dr. Towers claims that her workload was dramatically increased in the few months after the birth of her child. In August 2003, Dr. Towers cut back her hours to 30-35 hours per week and received a 40% pay reduction. Dr. Towers states that although this was a reduction in hours for her it placed her in line with the hours of other postdoctoral employees, who received full salary.

Dr. Towers states that she returned to work full time in December 2003. In January 2004 she began receiving her full salary again. Also at this time, Dr. Towers complained to Chairman Grannis about Professor Hobbs’ discriminatory behavior towards her. She states that he did nothing is response to her complaint.

Dr. Towers alleges that she was effectively fired as of September 2004 in retaliation for her complaints on January 2004. She also alleges that her contract was only renewed until March 2005 once she filed her EEOC complaint.

In December 2004, Dr. Towers filed a suit against the university in U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York.

In May 2007, the Court granted the university’s motions to dismiss Dr. Towers’ Title VII claims with respect to disparate treatment claims involving the issuance of her poor recommendation and the denial of her maternity leave, but denied it in all other respects. Dr. Towers may pursue disparate treatment claims involving her pay-cut and the denial of her contract renewal, as well as a hostile-environment claim involving the unreasonable workload she was assigned and accompanying threats of adverse consequences. In addition, the Court granted the university’s motion to dismiss the Title IX claims.

Key Case Issues

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Fair Labor Standards Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Family Medical Leave Act, New York State Executive Law, and Illinois Human Rights Law.