• Cullen and Dykman LLP Blogs

  • Archives

  • Former Harvard Professor Files Title IX Lawsuit After Being Denied Tenure

    Over the past year, an exceptional number of colleges and universities have been accused by both complainants and accused students of mishandling complaints of sexual misconduct in violation of Title IX. Now, in a somewhat unconventional case, Harvard University is also facing a Title IX lawsuit recently filed by an ousted employee.

    Specifically, former Harvard professor, Kimberly Theidon, recently filed suit in federal court, alleging that the University sexually discriminated against her in violation of Title IX and denied her tenure in May 2013 because of her advocacy work involving victims of sexual assault.

    Theidon’s complaint contends that Harvard “retaliat[ed] against her by denying her tenure immediately after and because…she supported a student-led campaign for a safe campus, which advocated for the reexamination of procedures governing Harvard’s response to complaints of sexual assault.”  Theidon further alleges that she was denied tenure because she objected to what she considered to be a “sexually hostile environment for women who complained about sexual assault and harassment at Harvard.” Moreover, the 34-page complaint also contends that Theidon allegedly received “less pay and work space than those accorded to males who had less experience or productivity.”

    Theidon, a medical anthropologist with research interests in the areas of “political violence, transitional justice, reconciliation, and the politics of post-war reparations,” says she was “baffled” when she was denied tenure, effectively ending her employment at the University. Upon receiving notification of the denial, Theidon then spoke with Harvard’s Vice Provost for Diversity, who Theidon claims told her that her political activities contributed to her negative tenure outcome and subsequent dismissal.

    Philip Gordon, who is representing Theidon in the lawsuit, has stated that “we want universities, as well as Harvard, to know that this is a serious issue. And we want professors and other individuals who serve as the front line for students who have been suffering – we want them to know that they are safe, that they can have a conscience and a career, and you can help students and you can be protected.” Theidon also alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Massachusetts law in the complaint, which seeks, among other things, reinstatement and compensatory and punitive damages.

    In response, Jeff Neal, a Harvard spokesperson contends that “Dr. Theidon’s central claims that inappropriate judgments affected her tenure decision continue to be flatly wrong. There is no merit whatsoever to her allegations of discrimination or retaliation. Any advocacy on Dr. Theidon’s part on behalf of victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault was not known, let alone considered, as part of the University’s decision on her tenure case. Moreover, such advocacy would never adversely affect a tenure decision at Harvard.”

    This case is another illustration of how the ever-changing Title IX climate has practical as well as legal implications for all colleges and universities. At an increasing rate, students who have been accused of sexual misconduct are suing their institutions under Title IX, while complainants use the same statute to sue their institutions for allegedly failing to properly investigate claims of sexual assault. Although not currently seen as often, institutions must also consider the potential for employee lawsuits filed under the umbrella of Title IX.

    If you or your institution has any questions or concerns regarding employment or education related issues, please contact James G. Ryan at jryan@cullenanddykman.com or at (516) 357 – 3750.

    Thank you to Nathan Boone, an intern at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for his assistance with this blog post.