STATEMENT FROM SCHAEFER HALLEEN, LLC — FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FORMER MINNESOTA STATE UNIVERSITY MOORHEAD PROFESSOR SUES FOR AGE DISCRIMINATION AND RETALIATION
Minneapolis, MN, January 20, 2016 – – – Dr. Claudia Murphy has sued her former employer, Minnesota State University Moorhead (“MSUM”), for age discrimination and retaliation. Dr. Murphy brought suit against the University alleging that it failed to hire her for a new professorship position created by the University in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program despite her clear qualifications for the role – and despite the preference of the search committee who wished, but was not permitted, to interview her for the position – as a direct result of her age and her complaints about the discriminatory hiring practices of the University.
Dr. Murphy, who is 63 years old, alleges that Dr. Randy Cagle, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, orchestrated her ouster by insisting on discriminatory criteria for the position designed specifically to prevent Dr. Murphy and other older applicants from consideration, even over the protests of the search committee. Dean Cagle and MSUM instead hired a significantly younger, less experienced professor and failed to renew Dr. Murphy’s contract for the 2015-16 school year.
“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,” explained Peter Christian at Schaefer Halleen, Dr. Murphy’s attorney. “We intend to prove that Dean Cagle was motivated by an age bias in demanding that the vacancy notice for this position include criteria which excluded older applicants such as Dr. Murphy from consideration and that MSUM failed grossly in overseeing this discriminatory hiring process, including by ignoring complaints about it.”
Dr. Murphy was a successful, popular professor in the Women’s Gender Studies Program (“WGS”) and Philosophy Department at MSUM since January 2009. She joined the University after gaining a national reputation in feminist science studies through nearly two decades of teaching and scholarly work on gender issues.
After her hire, Murphy quickly became a critical leader in building and growing the Women’s Gender Studies Program, especially a certificate program for women and science. In March 2015, recognizing the WGS Program’s growing popularity, MSUM decided to create an exciting opportunity for the Program, adding a new faculty position exclusively within it to begin in the 2015-16 academic year. It tasked a search committee with crafting a vacancy notice and finding the most qualified applicants for the position. Dr. Murphy was the first person contacted by the committee, as she had essentially performed the new role successfully for several years and was clearly a top candidate.
The Complaint – filed in Ramsey County on January 20, 2016 – alleges that Dr. Murphy was never granted an interview, as Dean Cagle refused to accept the search committee’s recommendations and excluded Dr. Murphy from consideration. It alleges that Dean Cagle insisted, over the protests of the search committee, that a “terminal” PhD specifically in WGS or Feminist Studies be required for the position, even though it meant excluding abundantly qualified older candidates and the applicants with the areas of expertise purportedly sought by MSUM (i.e. sustainability, women’s health, and feminist science studies).
“Put simply, the vacancy notice crafted by Dean Cagle was discriminatory on its face, as it disqualified older applicants,” said Mr. Christian. “The first terminal degrees in WGS or Feminist studies were not awarded until 1995. Unless an applicant was young enough to have earned their PhD after 1995, they simply do not have these degrees. Accordingly, leading experts in feminist science studies or feminist health studies who have been teaching and publishing on gender issues for decades, such as Dr. Murphy, do not have terminal degrees in WGS, but rather in philosophy, like Dr. Murphy, or in one or more scientific or health related fields.” Added Mr. Christian, “WGS is an interdisciplinary field. Most professors teaching in PhD programs in WGS or Feminist Studies in America do not have PhDs in WGS, regardless of their area of expertise and its relationship to gender issues. It is simply not credible that MSUM would require such a degree for any reason other than to exclude older applicants and hire a younger candidate. We intended to show that the practice was age discrimination prohibited by Minnesota law.”
Realizing the ramifications of the terminal degree requirement, the search committee attempted to overturn Dean Cagle’s directive, petitioning MSUM’s Human Resources Department to intervene in April 2015, without success. When Dr. Murphy learned that she had been excluded from consideration, she reported her concerns to MSUM President, Anne Blackhurst, and when President Blackhurst refused to intervene, she reported her concerns to the director of Human Resources. Despite these complaints and concerns expressed by the search committee and Dr. Murphy, MSUM refused to change the criteria for the position. Dr. Murphy’s application was subsequently rejected, without an interview. MSUM ultimately hired a significantly younger, less qualified professor for the position who is roughly 30 years old and who received her PhD in 2015.
“Dr. Murphy is truly a pioneer in the feminist sciences field. She used her expertise and reputation as a pioneer to help build a nationally recognized WGS program at MSUM. She deserved better, as did the other older applicants who were not considered for the position.” Added Mr. Christian, “We intend to demonstrate that but-for her age, she would still be teaching at MSUM.”
Joining MSUM was a coming-home for Dr. Murphy, who has spent most of her life in the Moorhead area and whose family has a long history with the University. Her mother taught in the department of speech and theater from 1968 to 1991 and her father and grandmother both received degrees from the University. Her parents are members of the Old Main Society, a life-
time giving society at the University.
“I’m concerned that what happened to me is part of a larger trend of age discrimination in the temporary workforce,” said Dr. Murphy. “Over the last several years, I have internalized MSUM’s values and worked hard to reflect them to my students, peers, and the community, especially its commitment to high-quality teaching and learning. I have honored my long term family traditions of giving to this institution. The search process for a professor in the WGS program ran afoul of those values. I owe it to my students, former colleagues, and the community to stand up and make sure this does not happen again.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT
Peter G. Christian at (612) 294-2619 or email at
To review the background of Schaefer Halleen, LLC, and the groundbreaking discrimination and retaliation cases Peter Christian and Schaefer Halleen have prosecuted, please visit www.schaferhalleen.com. The publicly filed Complaint is available on this website as well.