A jury in San Jose has found that Stanford University senior researcher Colleen Crangle was fired in retaliation for complaints of sex discrimination and has ordered Stanford to pay her $545,000 - the maximum possible in this case.
Ms Crangle claimed that she was forced to act as "girl Friday" to a male colleague who was not her senior. She was told that if she did not like the situation, she could leave. Although the judge threw out her discrimination claim, the jury did find that her complaints of bias led to the termination of her contract.
Critical to her case was an email message sent by Mark Musen, director of the department of medical infometrics, where she worked until March 1997. The day after she filed her complaints, he wrote: "I'd like to see what options we have right now to simply lay her off." Stanford contends that Crangle was let go only because her grant money had run out and says that she turned down the offer of another position.
The decision comes at a bad time for Stanford, which is under investigation by the US Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contracts Compliance. A class- action complaint of sex discrimination is also pending. Nine women have been named as complainants, but between 30 and 40 are thought to have been involved in the action at some time.
In October last year, three of the women, including Ms Crangle, wrote an open letter to the university's board of trustees arguing that the "numerous complaints point to widespread gender and race discrimination in the university's hiring, retention, and promotion of women and minority faculty and senior researchers". But as Stanford prepared an appeal it received support from four high-level women at the medical school - three department chairs and an associate dean - who wrote to the San Jose Mercury News, saying: "We feel personally that we work in an environment that is welcoming to women, and that an overwhelming number of our female colleagues share that view." They point out that the school has six female department chairs, the highest number in the US.