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Archive for Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Former professor wins suit against KU

Kansas University may appeal the jury’s verdict in a discrimination lawsuit.

April 12, 2000

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— A federal jury found that Kansas University retaliated against a former art history professor when the school denied her unpaid temporary research and teaching jobs.

The jury, after five hours of deliberation, delivered its verdict Tuesday afternoon in favor of Marie Aquilino.

In her suit, Aquilino claimed KU denied her the temporary jobs because she had filed a gender-bias complaint against the university with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The jury awarded $35,000 in damages to Aquilino for emotional pain and suffering, according to a statement from KU. She had sought more than $100,000 in damages.

"We're disappointed in today's verdict," KU spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said. "The university believes it did not retaliate against the plaintiff."

A friend of Aquilino's said she was "very emotional" at news of the verdict.

In its defense, the university claimed Aquilino was unqualified to teach at the university.

"When KU's defense is to beat up on people, in her case, you hope maybe they'll finally leave you alone," said Michael Cuenca, assistant professor of journalism.

"It really tempers any elation or jubilation; it's really just a sense of relief," Cuenca said.

Cuenca also is pursuing a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against KU.

Neither Aquilino nor her attorneys could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Bretz said KU is considering an appeal of Tuesday's verdict.

Aquilino, who left the university's employ in May 1999, filed a gender-bias claim against KU with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in September 1998. In that claim, she alleged the university denied her promotion and tenure in March 1998 because of her gender.

When she filed her lawsuit in June 1999, Aquilino alleged both discrimination in the denial of tenure and retaliation by the university because she was denied unpaid ad hoc or adjunct positions after her contract was terminated.

U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Vratil dismissed the discrimination claim in February, saying a reasonable jury would not conclude Aquilino was denied tenure because of her gender.

However, Vratil, in viewing the retaliation claim, wrote that a reasonable jury could infer she was denied the temporary jobs because of her complaint with the EEOC.

Federal law prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who alleges discrimination.

Aquilino's is the second faculty lawsuit against KU to go to trial this year.

In the first one, brought by a husband and wife also alleging discrimination and retaliation, the jury rejected the plaintiffs' claims.

No trial date has been set in Cuenca's discrimination and retaliation lawsuit.

-- Erwin Seba's phone message number is 832-7145. His e-mail address is eseba@ljworld.com.

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