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Woman Awarded $2.95 Million in UC Discrimination Case

August 05, 2004|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

A former clinical instructor at the UCLA School of Medicine has won a $2.95-million judgment against the University of California from a Superior Court jury in a sex discrimination and retaliation case.

The jury, in Los Angeles County Superior Court, found that UCLA had discriminated against Janet Conney in her efforts to obtain a tenure-track position at the university, then retaliated against her when she complained.

Conney, 40, had worked at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital from 1999 to 2002 after she completed a year of specialty training at the university in geriatric psychiatry. She filed suit against the institute and UC's governing board in 2003, claiming that her supervisors had discriminated against her on the basis of gender when they decided not to promote her from clinical instructor to assistant clinical professor.

UC officials have denied Conney's allegations, saying she was given an opportunity to interview for the higher position but did not pursue it.

"The university respectfully disagrees with the verdict, and we do not believe it was supported by the evidence," said James E. Holst, UC's general counsel. He said the university would seek redress through the trial court and, if necessary, at the appellate level.

Conney, who now has a private psychiatric practice in West Los Angeles, said she felt vindicated by last week's verdict.

"I feel like finally people will know the truth about how the university treated me and how they treat other women," she said. "But I think my career in academia has flickered away."

James K. Autrey, one of three attorneys who represented Conney, said testimony in the trial indicated that women in her department suffered a pattern of discrimination.

In the lawsuit, Conney's attorneys said male colleagues in similar jobs in the department earned substantially more than she did and were offered promotions that she was told were not available. The university denied the claims and said the salary discrepancies were based on experience, not gender.

In recent years, however, UC has been criticized by state legislators and others for perceived inequities in the hiring and retention of female professors. After a 2001 state auditor's report showed some disparities, the university has said it has tried to increase its hiring of women to tenure-track positions.

"Based on UC's overall record in this area, the university views the Conney verdict as an anomaly and not the proper basis from which to draw any adverse conclusions about UC's commitment to women in the workforce," said UC attorney Jeffrey Blair, who was also involved in the Conney case.

Conney received financial support for her case from the legal advocacy fund of the American Assn. of University Women. A spokeswoman said the case was the 10th sex discrimination lawsuit the 23-year-old organization has supported against UC or a UC institution but said the number was not unusual for a large university system. Most cases were settled before coming to trial, she said.

"It's still a very difficult work environment for women who choose higher education as their career path," said Leslie T. Annexstein, director of the legal advocacy fund. "It remains a male-dominated workplace."

The bulk of the award -- $2 million -- was for the loss to Conney of potential earnings. Annexstein said universities, along with other employers, are often loath to hire applicants who have pursued discrimination lawsuits.

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