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American University: Faculty Fired for Misconduct, Not Discrimination

In an update to a lawsuit in which former faculty member Lori Handrahan accused American University (AU) of age discrimination, the school now denies the allegation and instead claims that Handrahan had been terminated for misconduct — not because of her age.

Handrahan filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May 2019, followed by a lawsuit five months later.

AU responded to Handrahan’s complaint in a legal filing in August. “Other candidates were selected for the position because their qualifications more closely matched the needs of the position,” the filing read. It further stated that Handrahan was “previously terminated by AU for misconduct.”

In rebuttal, Handrahan’s lawyer Bob Flores said that the termination claim was inaccurate. Handrahan’s contract with the university had ended and was not renewed.

Last week, Handrahan and AU agreed to a protective order to maintain the confidentiality of the proceedings.

Six Other Women Sue for Discrimination

Handrahan is not the first woman to resort to legal action against AU for discrimination relating to the tenure process. In the past two decades, six women have come forward to accuse Provost Scott Bass of age, gender, and racial discrimination. 

Stephanie Newbold

Stephanie Newbold, a teacher at the AU School of Public Affairs from 2009 to 2013, was also denied tenure. The university recruited her for a position eligible for tenure last 2009 and she applied for promotion in September 2012.

When her application was denied in 2013, she believed that the denial was gender-based and that those who have worked in the professional world prior to entering academia may face discrimination from career academics.

Maria Ivancin

Maria Ivancin had been teaching at AU since 2002. She was denied tenure when she applied in May 2012.

After appealing her denial to the Committee on Faculty Grievances, the Committee explained that Bass denied her application for tenure because “she lacked evidence of her impact on her field,” and cited a shortage of published research in top-tier academic journals.

Ivancin filed a lawsuit against AU, arguing that Bass wrongly evaluated her candidacy, accusing him of age discrimination because she was 57 when denied tenure.

The court determined that there was indeed discrimination against Ivancin on the basis of her age, citing Bass’s repeated ageist remarks.

Carolyn Brown

Carolyn Brown was hired as an assistant professor for the 2009-2010 academic year. She applied for tenure in October 2016, but Bass denied her application in March 2017.

Bass’ letter to Brown explained that her teaching scores for three semesters were below average teaching scores.

“Variability in the quality of instruction during the probationary period is a harbinger of future teaching performance and is one of the critical determinants of the granting of tenure,” Bass wrote.

Brown appealed his decision to the Committee on Faculty Grievances in June 2017, citing gender and racial discrimination. She also claimed he did not follow the tenure requirements listed in the faculty manual.

Loubna Skalli-Hanna

Loubna Skalli-Hanna was hired in 2003 and accepted a tenure track appointment in 2008. In September 2013, she submitted an application for tenure that was denied by Bass in April 2014.

Skalli-Hanna submitted an appeal to the Committee on Faculty Grievances in July 2014.

Neil Kerwin, the university president at the time, stated that he did not find compelling evidence of unfairness or age discrimination and stood behind Bass’s decision.

Skalli-Hanna filed a lawsuit against the university for age discrimination and breach of contract and was awarded $1.2 million in damages and $175,000 for emotional distress.

Jennifer Diascro

From 2002 to 2012, Jennifer Diascro was an assistant professor at AU. Before that, she was a tenured professor at the University of Kentucky.

However, Diascro had to delay her tenure timeline by two years when she had two children during her pre-tenure period. 

Diascro was denied tenure by the Department of Government, the dean of AU School of Public Affairs, and Bass for inadequacy of research and lack of continued productivity in the field. 

She appealed the decision to the Committee on Faculty Grievances, claiming gender discrimination. Upon an investigation, they recommended that Kerwin reconsider her evaluation.

However, Kerwin said that he found no evidence of gender bias, dismissal of Diascro’s pre-AU work, or wrongful implementation of procedures. 

Caren Goldberg

Caren Goldberg, was hired by AU as an assistant professor in the Kogod School of Business in 2006, having previously been tenured at George Washington University. Applying for tenure in 2012, she was denied in May 2013.

Goldberg claimed that AU’s disregard for feminist research led to the denial of her tenure.

According to Bass, Goldberg’s lack of publications in top-tier journals did not meet the standards for tenure and promotion.

In June 2013, Goldberg appealed the decision to the Committee on Faculty Grievances. However, Kerwin upheld Bass’ decision in 2014, and Goldberg sued the university in 2015. The case is still open.

Rejection of Tenures Had ‘Lawful Basis’

In defense of Bass, AU spokesperson Kelly Alexander reiterated that the Provost’s decisions to deny tenure had a lawful basis.

“Since he became provost in 2008, Bass has granted tenure to more than 90 percent of all those who have applied for it, including a great many women, a substantial number of applicants over 40, 50 and 60, and many individuals from diverse backgrounds,” she stated.

“In those rare cases in which the Provost has decided to deny tenure, his decisions have been for lawful, non-discriminatory reasons.”

Bass stepped down from his position in June 2018.