Tuesday, December 23, 2008

OKCU Law Under Fire for Gender Discrimination and Harassment

Oklahoma Not exactly the place you would expect to see issues of alleged gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace, but, of course, no employer is immune. 

From NewsOK from earlier this week:

Four Oklahoma City University law professors submitted a confidential memo to the OCU attorney in October 2007 detailing alleged discrimination and harassment incidents. 

It outlines allegations of sexual harassment, pay disparity and insensitivity.

The female professors also complained the OCU law school has no regular civil rights course, criminal law classes don’t cover rape, and the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade is only covered sporadically in constitutional law.

The memo was sparked by two incidents: the alleged sexual harassment of two female professors at Dean Lawrence Hellman’s home in July 2007 and the all-male panel chosen for a Constitution Day program in September 2007.

"These incidents caused us to summarize and verbalize our longstanding belief that the OCU law faculty exhibit discriminatory attitudes and behavior that are harming and have harmed our professional careers and quality of life,” the women wrote . . . .

The memo notes the lack of women on a faculty appointment committee, which regularly included two university professors who are "openly hostile” to the idea of giving special consideration for women and minorities.

Some interesting questions raised by this memo:  does the lack of course offerings, or the coverage of certain topics, evidence gender discrimination?  How about if a law school panel or a faculty committee does not contain any female professors?  Of course, these questions must be answered in the larger context of the work environment, but they are interesting allegations nonetheless.

Wondering how this "confidential" memo made its way into the news media?

The memo, which is dated Oct. 10, 2007, was included with the Dec. 2 discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court in Oklahoma City by professor Danne Johnson.

Johnson is one of the women responsible for the memo, but the rest of the names in it have been blacked out.

This case has the potential of causing waves in the law school world, so I plan to further updates as they become available.

Hat Tip: Jack Sargent



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"Some interesting questions raised by this memo: does the lack of course offerings, or the coverage of certain topics, evidence gender discrimination?"

Yeah, those are my questions, too.

A law school which fails to cover rape in criminal law or Roe v. Wade in constitutional law is almost certainly a bad law school, but why would this implicate these other claims?

Posted by: James Young | Dec 23, 2008 10:43:15 AM

I'm perhaps even more troubled by the allegation that having a professor on the appointments committee who is "'openly hostile' to the idea of giving special consideration for women and minorities" would constitute tortious gender discrimination and harassment...

Posted by: Ubertrout | Dec 23, 2008 7:42:32 PM

OCU Law is such a weird place. I graduated there in Dec. '05. Many profs and administrators were committed to equality and a positive classroom environment, but others weren't. It is the "bad apples" and the school's refusal to get rid of those bad apples, that makes me very hesitant to recommend the school to prospective students. I don't understand why law students are still subjected to abusive treatment, or why such treatment is considered "par for the course."

Unfortunately, OU law is even worse. I attended a graduation there a few years ago and it was the whitest event I've been to in a long time.

Posted by: J. M. Branum | Jan 7, 2009 6:41:35 AM

I am a recent grad and a minority as well. The allegations Prof. Johnson is alleging seem outrageous to me. While I was at OCU Law the school went out of its way to recruit minorities and women. The Women in Law group was supported extremely well and even had Justice O'Connor come to the school to lecture. I recall the minority law student groups receiving plenty of funding to attend African American, Native American, Hispanic bar associations conferences out of state.

There are several criminal law professors and constitutional law professors at OCU Law. Some might put different preferences on certain subjects such as Roe v. Wade or rape. I would only know that both were discussed in the classes I had. I would say this that Roe v. Wade although one of the most famous cases in Supreme Court Law history does very little to explain how the Supreme Court got to its conclusion. It discusses the Penumbra of the constitution which by many scholars seems to judicial made law to achieve a certain end. Rape is covered in terms of the specific mens rea needed to commit it as well in Evidence where certain kinds of evidence is disallowed for the defense because it brings issues of the victim into play which actually places the victim on trial.

All of the women professors I had were respected and looked at with great admiration. As to the allegations of harassment at the Dean's house that may be true but the gender discrimination seems a bit of a stretch.

Posted by: Recent Grad | Jan 13, 2009 2:21:43 PM

I had a professor refer to me on three separate occasions as a single mother. I corrected him twice by informing him that I was married. He still referred to me as a single mom. This really bothered me to be in an environment of ‘higher learning’ and still be subjected to stereotypical comments.

Posted by: current student at OCU | Jan 16, 2009 8:32:50 AM

This doesn't surprise me. OCU's administration and faculty are corrupt. These university officials need to be held responsible for its actions. From what I have heard from current students and others, OCU needs serious help as well as instruction.

Posted by: joe schek | Feb 24, 2009 7:12:40 AM

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