Court Case: Washington v. Trustees of the California State University and Colleges, et al.

Case adopted 02/04

Case History

Pat Washington, former assistant professor in the women’s studies department at San Diego State University in California (SDSU), sued the university for sex and race discrimination combined in the denial of tenure, retaliation for complaining about the discrimination, and pay inequity under California state laws.

Washington, a black woman, began employment at SDSU in 1996 as a tenure-track professor in the women’s studies department. At the time she was hired, she was the first black tenure-track professor in the department’s 30-year history. She remained the department’s only full-time non-white tenure-track professor throughout her employment at SDSU. During the course of her employment, the university renewed Washington’s appointment three times. However, despite her strong record of service, teaching, and professional growth, Washington maintained that faculty members within the department subjected her to a racially hostile work environment.

Washington first notified university officials of the hostile work environment in 1999, when she began exploring the possibility of transferring to another department. She and university officials concluded that she would remain in the women’s studies department through the tenure review process. However, in 2000, Washington reported to officials that due to her allegations of the hostile work environment, she feared faculty members within the department would retaliate against her during the process and vote to deny her tenure for reasons other than merit. To her knowledge, officials did not investigate her allegations.

From the time she was hired in 1996 until she submitted her tenure application in 2001, Washington was judged on three separate sets of criteria for tenure by the women’s studies department. The last set of criteria was given to Washington a mere six months before she submitted her tenure application. To her knowledge, she was the only faculty member in her department to be judged on three separate — and successively more stringent — sets of requirement for tenure. Nevertheless, Washington believes that she met and exceeded the revised criteria. She was ultimately denied tenure in 2002; the university terminated her employment at the end of the 2002-2003 academic year.

Washington alleges that she was held to a far higher, and highly subjective, standard for achieving tenure than her white female colleagues in women’s studies, or white females and males throughout SDSU. She also alleges that the university paid her a lower salary than similarly situated male professors and that there is a practice of paying lower wages to women faculty.

In 2002, Washington filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her sex/race combined. The EEOC found in her favor and recommended that the university award her tenure, promotion to associate professor, and back pay with benefits. Despite the EEOC’s determination, conciliation efforts between Washington and the university were unsuccessful.

Washington filed her complaint in California state court in 2003. In April 2005, the trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, dismissing Washington’s case in its entirety. In July 2005, Washington filed her appellate brief with the California Appellate Court. On April 17, 2005 a California Appeal Court ruled against Washington. Ultimately the California Supreme Court chose not to hear Washington’s appeal.

Key Case Issues

Sex and race discrimination in the denial of tenure, retaliation for complaining about the discrimination, and pay inequity under California state laws.