The Salk Institute for Biological Studies campus in San Diego, California

REX BOGGS (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Salk Institute settles last of three gender discrimination lawsuits

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, today settled the last in a trio of lawsuits filed by senior female professors in July 2017. They had accused the storied research center, founded by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, of sustained, systematic gender discrimination.

Salk and lawyers for Beverly Emersonwho worked at the institute for 31 years, until her contract was not renewed in December 2017, issued a statement that said:

The Salk Institute and Dr. Beverly Emerson announce that they have resolved the litigation filed by Dr. Emerson last year.  Salk recognizes Dr. Emerson’s more than thirty years of service to the Institute and looks forward to her continued contributions to the scientific community.

Salk said it would not comment beyond the statement. Emerson, 66, currently a distinguished scientist with the Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research Center at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said she could not comment except to say, “I settled because it was time.”

Emerson and Salk had been set to go to trial on 14 January 2019. She alleged in her lawsuit that the institute was guilty of “systematically undermining and marginalizing” its senior female professors. Her lawsuit, like those filed by the other two plaintiffs, accused Salk’s male leadership of promoting its tenured women more slowly, underpaying them relative to their male peers, pressuring them to downsize their labs, and shutting them out of funding opportunities.

Salk initially defended itself with a statement that diminished the women’s scientific records.

In August, Salk settled out of court with the other two plaintiffs: Vicki Lundblad, 66, an expert in telomeres, the structures that cap chromosomes; and Kathy Jones, 63, who studies gene transcription. The terms were not disclosed. Jones and Lundblad have both resumed working at the institute.

ScienceInsider reported in August that “After the suits were filed, internal documents leaked to Science exposed long-standing gender tensions at the institute. … Two of the lawsuits also accused a veteran Salk scientist, Inder Verma, of actively impeding the women’s advancement. Subsequently, eight women made sexual harassment allegations against Verma, who has since resigned from Salk.”