$545,000 award to researcher
STANFORD — A former Stanford University medical school researcher was awarded $545,000 yesterday by a jury that concluded she was fired in retaliation for her complaints of sex discrimination.
The unanimous verdict was the maximum award allowed under federal law in such cases. It comes even as the U.S. Labor Department is investigating charges that the prestigious university violated affirmative action law in the hiring, promotion and retention of women faculty and researchers.
The sexual discrimination allegations brought by acclaimed researcher Colleen Crangle, 48, marked the first time in memory that Stanford has defended itself against such charges in court. Typically, the university has settled such matters out of court or has seen the suits dismissed.
The eight-person jury in U.S. District Court in San Jose found that administrators at a Stanford Medical School laboratory abruptly fired Crangle in March, 1997, in retaliation for her complaints of discrimination by her bosses.
Under federal law, the most a jury can award for punitive and compensatory damages in a retaliation case is $300,000.
The jury handed Crangle the $300,000 amount and tacked on an additional $245,000 in lost salary and benefits. Stanford also will have to pay her attorneys’ fees, but that amount has yet to be determined.
“I’m elated,” Crangle said. “But this case is not just about me, but about a lot of women and people of color who have been discriminated against by Stanford.”
Stanford lawyers said they plan to appeal the verdict. They argued during the eight-day trial in U.S. District Court that Crangle was laid off her job at the Stanford Medical Infometrics laboratory because her research money had dried up, and she refused to accept a subsequent job offer.
Crangle’s attorney, Dan Siegel, said he hopes the award will force Stanford to “wake up and realize this is the 21st century, and women need to be treated equally.”
A “Girl Friday”
Crangle, a senior researcher in medical computer science, testified she had been forced to be a “Girl Friday” to a fellow scientist who she said was threatened by her “strong opinions.”
During her testimony last week, Crangle asserted that when she brought her concerns to Dr. Edward Shortliffe, associate Medical School dean, he told her to leave if she didn’t like the situation.
The jury of four men and four women accepted Crangle’s version and concluded that Stanford had acted with malice against her.
Two jurors embraced the teary-eyed Crangle as they were leaving the courtroom of Judge James Ware. “You have a great future, ma’am,” drawled one, an unidentified male in a cowboy hat said.
Key E-Mail Message
Jurors declined to comment on their verdict or award. But a key piece of evidence that may have influenced their ruling was an e-mail sent by Medical Infometrics director Mark Musen to Shortliffe one day after Crangle complained to her bosses in December, 1996.
“I’d like to see what options we have right now simply to lay her off,” Musen wrote.
In a statement by Stanford Medical Center, Debra Zumwalt, the university’s acting general counsel, noted that Judge Ware had previously ruled there was no evidence of discrimination by Stanford, and that the jury’s verdict was limited to the “narrow issue” of retaliation.
“Obviously, we are disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” she said, noting that five male colleagues of Crangle’s had also been laid off at the same time when the grant money ran out.
Zumwalt said the university intends to appeal the verdict. She contended that the judge had made several errors prejudicial to the university’s defense, particularly in allowing testimony by Stanford brain surgeon Fran Conley, a longtime critic of the university in regard to gender equity issues.
The Labor Department investigation focuses on allegations of widespread sex discrimination at Stanford in hiring and promotions of women.
More than a dozen women brought a class-action complaint in November 1998, but their numbers grew to 32, including some minority men, by the time the probe was announced in February.
Many of those who brought their complaints to the Labor Department have since left Stanford, and some have settled their claims out of court and withdrawn from the federal complaint.
Crangle was among those who filed discrimination complaints with the Labor Department. At stake is $500 million in federal contracts and grants Stanford receives annually. The contracts and grants could be jeopardized if investigators of the Federal Office of Contract Compliance uncover a pattern of bias.
The Department of Labor will not comment on the investigation.