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Third Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against Salk Institute

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 24, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego is one of the premier scientific research labs in the world. After all, it's named after the man who cured polio. And you would think that an institute studying cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, would treat all of its researchers equally, and reward them based on merit alone.

But three female professors at Salk have sued the institute, claiming a "hostile environment in which they are undermined, disrespected, disparaged, and treated unequally."

Beachside Boys' Club

The latest lawsuit, filed by senior professor Dr. Beverly Emerson, did not mince words. "For over half a century," the suit claims, "the Salk Institute has operated as an antiquated boys' club, systematically undermining and marginalizing its three female Full Professors." The few women who managed to attain full professor roles, allegedly endured:

  1. Slower promotion rates;
  2. Lower pay regardless of their experience and scientific contributions, seniority, ability to secure grant funding, awards and accolades, and high-profile publications;
  3. An unequal distribution of resources, including both in donor funding and laboratory staff;
  4. Exclusion from opportunities for high-value grants from private donors and foundations;
  5. Denial of nearly all leadership and professional advancement opportunities within the Salk Institute; and
  6. A hostile environment in which they are undermined, disrespected, disparaged, and treated unequally.

Emerson's lawsuit follows those filed by Salk professors Dr. Katherine Jones and Dr. Vicki Lundblad, and references a 2003 report that found "female Assistant Professors had to work an average of 1.2 years longer than male Assistant Professors (6.4 years vs. 5.6 years) to be promoted to Associate Professor, and female Associate Professors had to work an average of 1.7 years longer than male Associate Professors (5.3 years vs. 3.6 years) to be promoted to Full Professor."

Sex and Wage Discrimination

Emerson is alleging several violations of California's anti-discrimination laws which make it illegal for an employer "to refuse to hire or employ the person or to refuse to select the person for a training program leading to employment, or to bar or to discharge the person from employment or from a training program leading to employment, or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment."

The suit also claims Salk violated the state's wage equality statutes, which state:

An employer shall not pay any of its employees at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex for substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.

Emerson is asking for money damages, "including loss of wages and benefits," as well as an injunction barring Salk from further violations of California labor laws.

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