Former assistant history prof sues Penn for alleged gender discrimination

Kristen Stromberg Childers claims her maternity leave adversely affected her tenure application

· April 29, 2014, 7:44 pm   ·  Updated April 30, 2014, 8:03 am

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Former assistant history professor Kristen Stromberg Childers claims that she did not receive tenure because she took a leave of absence to give birth and take care of her children.

Now, she is suing Penn for alleged gender discrimination.

Childers, who taught at the History Department as an assistant professor from 2002-10, filed a complaint against the University on April 28, demanding that she receive tenure in the History Department.

“Penn is a place that says you should never choose between career and family,” Childers said in an interview, “[but] it seems to be a problem at this level, where the childcare and tenure decisions are coming together. It brings up a clear problem with the system.”

Penn declined to comment on the lawsuit due to University policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.

According to the complaint, the University approved Childers’ maternity leave in the 2003-2004 and 2007-2008 academic years. While on half-time maternity leave in 2008, Childers’ first tenure application was denied, the complaint states. The following academic year (2008-09), Childers took half-time, half-pay family leave, as per University policy, so she could care for her oldest child. Her tenure application was denied again in 2010.

Childers believes that she is qualified for tenure and the position of associate professor position because of her credentials and teaching. In her second tenure application, she had also received support for tenure from “all the general reviewers consulted,” including her tenure committee, the History Department, the School of Arts and Sciences Personnel Committee and the Dean of SAS, her complaint stated.

Despite the support, the Provost and the Provost Staff Conference voted to deny tenure to Childers. According to the facts of the complaint, it was “extremely rare, if not unprecedented” that the Provost and the Provost Staff denied tenure when other reviewers supported a candidate.

A representative from the Provost’s office declined to comment, citing University policy.

Following her tenure rejection, Childers filed an internal complaint with the Faculty Grievance Commission. According to Childers’ court complaint, the Commission found that the chairwoman of the SAS Personnel Committee wrote to the SAS Dean that “committee members found it hard to judge productivity in light of Dr. Stromberg Childers’ family leave time and her junior leave.”

The Commission also found, according to Childers’ April 28 complaint, that in SAS Dean Rebecca Bushnell’s letter to the Provost Staff Conference, she noted that it was “difficult to give a balanced assessment” of Childers’ overall productivity “because of the amount of family leave she has had.”

The Provost’s Office agreed to the Grievance Commission’s recommendation to reconsider Childers’s application. It reaffirmed the denial of tenure in June 2011, without providing any explanation, according to Childers’ complaint.

Deputy News Editor Claire Cohen contributed reporting.

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