Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, January 23, 2019

American University found responsible for age discrimination in former professor’s tenure case

Loubna Skalli-Hanna was awarded over $1.3 million in damages

American University found responsible for age discrimination in former professor’s tenure case

Former School of International Service professor Loubna Skalli-Hanna won over $1.3 million in a tenure discrimination lawsuit against American University that was decided on Oct. 15. Skalli-Hanna was awarded “$1,151,000 in economic damages and $175,000 in emotional distress damages,” according to a press release by the law firm representing her, Bernabei & Kabat, PLLC.

“I am glad that the jury is on the right side of history,” Skalli-Hanna said in a recent interview. “While battling injustice, I never gave up hope and I never gave up on my career. I continue doing exactly what I have always done in my life -- teaching and scholarship.”

University spokesperson Mark Story said AU is considering its options in the case following the verdict.

“While we respect the jury system, we feel strongly that no discrimination took place in this case,” Story said in a statement. “We are evaluating our options and considering next steps. We will not comment further on matters pending before the court.”

The Eagle previously reported on Skalli-Hanna’s, as well as four other other women’s, tenure denial cases last spring. Skalli-Hanna was hired at the University in 2003 and began her tenure track, a six-year process to obtain tenure, in 2013.

In September 2013, she submitted her tenure application and was denied by then-provost Scott Bass in April 2014. This pushed her to appeal the decision to the Committee on Faculty Grievances in July 2014. Skalli-Hanna was 51 at the time her application for tenure was submitted, and she stopped working full time for AU in May 2015.

The Committee on Faculty Grievances investigated her claim, according to the court order. The committee released a report that stated it had “serious concerns about the overall fairness of the process,” per the court order. The committee also found statistical evidence of possible age discrimination.

Neil Kerwin, the University’s president at the time, upheld the provost’s decision to deny her tenure application. He did not find compelling evidence of unfairness or age discrimination, according to his letter to Skalli-Hanna. Shortly afterward, Skalli-Hanna filed a lawsuit against the University citing age discrimination and breach of contract. The jury did not find the University responsible for breach of contract in the case. 

The trial, which took place in District of Columbia Superior Court over the course of four weeks, was decided last Monday. Skalli-Hanna’s team presented the jury with evidence supporting her claim that Bass denied her tenure on the basis of her age, Skalli-Hanna said in a phone interview.

One such piece of evidence were Kerwin’s notes from a meeting between him and Bass regarding Skalli-Hanna in which Kerwin wrote “Old SIS” next to her name, Skalli-Hanna said. 

Skalli-Hanna’s team also presented a statistically significant report comparing over 120 tenure decisions files at AU, which showed “that age is not an accident in the tenure decision -- it is a huge factor,” Skalli-Hanna said.

“If you’re young, you’re tenured. If you’re older you’re very likely not to be tenured,” Hanna said.

Although she no longer teaches at AU, Skalli-Hanna said she still feels a part of the community she left behind.

“I make a difference between the administration that destroyed my career and the AU community that I embraced -- that I invested 12 years of my life with,” said Skalli-Hanna, who currently teaches international policy and development at the University of California, Washington Center.

Skalli-Hanna noted that Kerwin and Bass, whom she referred to as “architects of discrimination,” remain at the University as tenured professors. Kerwin and Bass did not respond to requests for comment as of publication time.

She said the University should be ashamed to have the two men on its payroll while she has had to struggle to rebuild her career.

“It took me six years to demonstrate that I followed every guideline, and it took a whole year for my file to be reviewed and vetted by scholars, by colleagues, by committees at the University,” Skalli-Hanna said. “And it took one second for the provost to ruin my life and career.”

This article has been updated to reflect that the University was not found responsible for breach of contract in the lawsuit. 

jgagnon@theeagleonline.com


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