Court Case: Zahorik, et al. v. Cornell University

Case History

Donna Zahorik, Judith Long-Laws, Jacqueline Livingston, Antonia Glasse, and Charlotte Farris — five former faculty members at Cornell University in New York — sued the institution for claims including sex discrimination, retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination, and pay inequity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Four of the five plaintiffs alleged that they had been subjected to sex discrimination in the denial of tenure, and stated that their tenure reviews were marred by procedural errors. The remaining plaintiff alleged that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender by being denied reappointment and therefore denied consideration for a tenure-track position. The plaintiffs noted that as of 1980, slightly more than 6% of tenured faculty at Cornell were women — a number far below the average for other institutions across the nation. All plaintiffs stated that the university engaged in a policy of paying plaintiffs less than similarly situated males, and that this policy was reflective of a negative attitude toward the value of women’s work.

Originally, eleven women — faculty and coaches at Cornell — initiated a complaint of sex discrimination against the university for Title VII and Title IX violations and became known as the “Cornell Eleven.” Ultimately, Zahorik and her four fellow plaintiffs pursued the lawsuit, filed in 1980 in federal court. The plaintiffs moved for certification of a class that would have included women with academic appointments who were currently or were in the past employed by Cornell between 1972 and 1980. However, the court denied this motion.

In 1983, the court granted the university’s motion for summary judgment as to four of the plaintiffs’ claims of sex discrimination in the denial of tenure. In its decision, the court stated that the plaintiffs failed to show that they were qualified for the positions they sought and that the circumstances surrounding their tenure denials implied discrimination. The four plaintiffs appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which affirmed the decision of the lower court. In 1984, the parties reached a $250,000 settlement regarding the pay inequity claims.

Members of the Ithaca branch of AAUW collaborated with a support group for the Cornell Eleven to assist the plaintiffs in their case. AAUW collected funds raised for the plaintiffs’ litigation expenses, marking the origins of the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund.

Key Issues

Sex discrimination in the denial of tenure, retaliation for complaining of sex discrimination, and pay in equity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.