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U of M professor's tenure-denial lawsuit revived

University of Minnesota. Wikipedia Commons

MINNEAPOLIS—An African-American instructor says her race and sex played a role in the University of Minnesota's decision to postpone and ultimately squash her shot at a tenured position.

Yolanda Majors' lawsuit against the U was thrown out last year by a Hennepin County District Judge Mel Dickstein. But the Court of Appeals last month revived the case, saying Dickstein erred in his decision.

Majors was a tenured professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2010 when she expressed an interest in joining the U. Months later, she moved to Minnesota for her spouse's promotion.

Meanwhile, faculty held numerous discussions about hiring Majors as a tenured professor in the College of Education and Human Development's Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Majors said Dean Jean Quam liked the idea but was reluctant because another woman of color, Nina Asher, had just been hired as department chair.

"Dean Quam stated that she feared pushback from the faculty for her decision to hire Dr. Asher and that because of this she was reluctant to present (Dr. Majors) to the faculty due to the fact that Dr. Majors was also a woman of color," Majors wrote in a court filing.

The U hired Majors in 2011 as a nontenured visiting professor, a one-year position. She was under the impression she'd be considered later for a tenured position, all but guaranteeing her a job until retirement if she can win the support of the faculty, provost and regents.

However, after reviewing her curriculum vitae, Asher told Majors she'd have to publish more in order to be considered for a tenured job.

Majors stayed on for a second year as a visiting professor before Quam told her she no longer was being considered for a tenured position.

"Dean Quam testified that she chose not to hire Dr. Majors because her research and publication profile did not meet the department's strict standards," according to the appeals court ruling.

Majors instead was hired in an academic administrative position.

Majors sued the U in 2016, alleging discrimination on the basis of race and sex in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. She sought damages for lost income, emotional distress and more.

According to Majors, Quam told her that as an African-American woman, she may need to present a stronger case to win over the faculty, and that another faculty member had also discussed with her the heightened scrutiny given to minority candidates for tenure.

Judge Dickstein found Majors had offered enough evidence to make a case that she was being held to a higher standard as an African-American woman.

Still, Dickstein dismissed the lawsuit, writing that Majors cannot prove she ultimately would have been granted tenure.

The appeals court said that's not necessary to win damages under the human rights act.

The case now returns to the district court.