Why it matters

A federal jury in Oklahoma awarded more than $1 million to a transgender English professor who alleged Southeastern Oklahoma State University denied her tenure because of gender bias and retaliation. When she was initially hired in 2004, Dr. Rachel Tudor presented as a man. She began to transition in 2007 and present as a woman. In 2009, she was denied tenure over the recommendations of faculty members. She sued under Title VII and the case proceeded to trial after the district court denied the school’s motion for summary judgment. Although jurors rejected the plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, they awarded Tudor $1,165,000 for discrimination and retaliation.

Detailed discussion

When she was hired by Southeastern Oklahoma State University as an assistant professor in 2004, Dr. Rachel Tudor presented as a man. In 2007, she began to transition and present as a woman. She applied for the tenured position of associate professor in 2009, but her application was denied over the recommendations of tenured faculty members. Tudor was then terminated during the 2010–11 school year based on her lack of tenure.

Alleging that she suffered significant discrimination and harassment after she announced her transition, Tudor filed suit asserting that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and discriminated against in violation of Title VII.

The school moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence of a hostile environment and offered just a “handful” of insults, incidents or comments.

But U.S. District Judge Robin J. Cauthron disagreed, denying the motion.

“Rather, [the plaintiff] argues that every day over the course of a four-year period she had restrictions on which restrooms she could use, restrictions on how she could dress, what makeup she could wear,” the court said. “She was also subjected to hostilities from administrators targeting her gender, such as using an improper pronoun to refer to her and other gender-based hostilities.”

Tudor’s discrimination claim also survived, as she provided sufficient evidence suggesting that substantial procedural irregularities existed in the decision to deny her tenure, the court said, as did her retaliation claim, based on her engagement in multiple protected activities (from filing an internal grievance to sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Education complaining of discrimination).

The ruling moved the case forward to trial.

After two days of deliberations, the eight-person jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on three counts: that she was denied tenure in 2009-10 because of her gender, that the defendants’ decision to deny her the opportunity to apply for tenure in 2010–11 was because of her gender, and that she was denied the opportunity to reapply for tenure in retaliation for her complaints about workplace discrimination. Jurors rejected Tudor’s hostile work environment claim, however.

The jury awarded Tudor a total of $1,165,000.

To read the verdict form in Tudor v. Southeastern Oklahoma State University, click here.