Jury Rules for Researcher, Against Stanford

A federal jury last week ordered Stanford University to pay $545,000 to a former medical informatics researcher who was laid off 3 years ago after alleging sex discrimination on the job. The researcher is also one of several women whose complaints have triggered an ongoing Department of Labor investigation into the university's affirmative action policies.

The decision involves Colleen Crangle, a computer science expert who worked at Stanford's medical school. She filed suit in U.S. District Court in October 1997 alleging that she was let go in March 1997 with one day's notice because she complained about the way she was being treated by male colleagues--specifically, about a set of restrictions imposed on her activities as a researcher.

U.S. District Court Judge James Ware threw out a discrimination claim in Crangle's suit last fall, but the jury ruled that Stanford had acted "with malice" toward Crangle, a part-time senior research scientist who did not hold a formal faculty position. One of the strongest pieces of evidence supporting Crangle's case, says Dan Siegel, Crangle's lawyer, was a series of e-mails. In one, Medical Infometrics director Mark Musen discusses Crangle's complaints and then states, "I'd like to see what options we have right now simply to lay her off."

The verdict comes as the U.S. Department of Labor is investigating charges that the university has systematically violated rules involving the hiring and promoting of women employees. The complaints were brought by current and former Stanford employees--a group that numbered as many as 32 in February 1999. But Stanford's acting general counsel, Debra Zumwalt, says the university has nothing to hide: "We have zero tolerance for discrimination and retaliation, and [we have] strong policies that prohibit such behavior."