Thursday, March 17, 2022
The University of Texas at Austin must pay an engineering professor denied tenure $3 million, because it would have promoted her in 2019 if she hadn’t been a woman, and pregnant, a federal jury in Texas decided.
The assistant professor, Evdokia Nikolova, was awarded $1 million for past pain and suffering in the gender- and pregnancy-discrimination case and $2 million in future damages, plus $50,000 in back pay and benefits.
Nikolova is still employed by UT Austin as an assistant professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering. Her lawyer, Bob Schmidt, declined to say whether she’s still seeking tenure, citing the university’s right to appeal the verdict. Awarding Nikolova tenure was beyond the jury’s purview, he said.
Above all, Schmidt said he hopes the jury’s decision restores Nikolova’s reputation as a scholar after it was so damaged by the illegal tenure denial.
“The jury heard five days of compelling evidence from lots of witnesses, looked at hundreds of exhibits and documents,” he said. “But the No. 1 thing is how qualified Dr. Nikolova was, and how clearly she met the standards for tenure at UT.”***
Peter Glick, Henry Merritt Wriston Professor in the Social Sciences at Lawrence University, who studies overcoming biases and stereotyping, served as an expert witness for Nikolova during the trial. He said in an interview that there’s a tension between notions of the ideal worker and the ideal mother, and that fields in which workers are perceived to be especially devoted to what they do—think academic science—may be especially punitive for mothers. (On the flip side, he added, men have been shown to gain favor in the workplace when they become fathers, since notions of the ideal worker and the ideal father don’t clash like they do for mothers, as men are idealized as primary providers instead of primary caregivers.) And while much research on gender bias in the workplace examines hiring practices, Glick said, the literature as a whole suggests that bias against women is much more “robust”—meaning worse—when it comes to how institutions promote and reward workers than in hiring.