University sued for age discrimination

by Josie Gereszek

A former women’s and gender studies professor is suing MSUM, saying her department’s dean and other university officials denied her a job based on age.

Claudia Murphy filed the lawsuit, claiming that Randy Cagle, dean of humanities and social sciences, created intentionally discriminatory demands for the new job. The lawsuit’s news release stated that Cagle’s requirements excluded 63-year-old Murphy and other older candidates because it required them to have Ph.D.s in WGS programs, which weren’t offered until 1995.

Murphy was ejected from the department when Cagle didn’t renew her contract for the 2015-16 school year, Murphy’s attorney, Peter Christian, said in the release. Murphy, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy, had been teaching in the WGS program since early 2009.

“I really loved my job,” Murphy said in a phone interview. “It just feels saddening. I enjoyed it very much.”

The complaint alleges Cagle was set on the position’s Ph.D. requirement, despite the protests of its search committee. It continues that he directly excluded Murphy from consideration by not giving her an interview, though Murphy was the first person the search committee contacted at the position’s opening.

“She deserved better, as did the other older applicants who were not considered for the position,” Christian said in the release. “We intend to demonstrate that, but for her age, she would still be teaching at MSUM.”

Murphy said she had been hired at the university partially as a result of her work in women’s studies. She was involved in the development of the department’s Women and Science certificate offering, which examines inequalities in STEM fields.

“It’s rare to see such direct involvement from the highest levels of leadership in these types of hiring decisions at public institutions, especially when a search committee was tasked with finding the highest qualified candidates,” Christian, who works at Schaefer Halleen, a Minneapolis law firm, said in the Jan. 20 release. “MSUM failed grossly in overseeing this discriminatory hiring process, including by ignoring complaints about it.”

The complaint states that university officials, including human resources and President Anne Blackhurst, didn’t get involved, even after Murphy reported her concerns.

The university ultimately hired Emily Lind Johnson for the position, who is roughly half Murphy’s age and received her doctorate in 2015.

The Advocate reached out to Cagle and Blackhurst for comment and received a statement from MSUM spokesman David Wahlberg, who said the university has high standards for all faculty, staff and administrators, and sets hiring qualifications that reflect those expectations.

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