UCLA Professor Alleges Backlash for Protesting Gender Discrimination

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A UCLA professor is suing the UC regents, alleging she suffered gender discrimination and retaliation for complaining that female faculty members were subjected to disparate treatment by the business school administration and because she reported an interim dean’s inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.

Jennifer Walske’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges gender discrimination, harassment, retaliation, hostile work environment, failure to prevent discrimination, and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

“The treatment of Dr. Walske sends a chilling message to female faculty, staff, and students at UCLA Anderson — if you report concerns about gender discrimination or harassment, your academic career and reputation will be ruined,” the suit states.

Walske’s suit claims that she is the latest in a long line of faculty and staff who have been retaliated against for coming forward with legitimate complaints of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

“In Dr. Walske’s case, UCLA and its agents not only retaliated against her for reporting the discrimination and harassment, but also, when she reported the retaliation, the university doubled down and retaliated against her even further.”

A UCLA representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Friday.

Walske is an award-winning professor and in 2018 she was recruited by UCLA’s Anderson School of Management from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley to be an adjunct assistant professor, as well as roles as interim faculty director for Impact@Anderson, an academic center promoting equity and sustainability through social impact work, and as a research fellow in the Price Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the suit states.

She moved with her family to Los Angeles to begin what she thought would be a rewarding, long-term relationship with UCLA and the Anderson School, according to the suit.

“Regrettably, however, not long after she arrived on campus, like other female faculty within UCLA Anderson, Dr. Walske experienced gender discrimination and a hostile work environment,” the suit states.

Walske reported, among other things, that her immediate supervisor, UCLA Anderson School’s then-Interim Dean, Alfred Osborne Jr. made inappropriate gender-related comments to her, treated male faculty more favorably and appeared to be engaged in an improper relationship with a female subordinate, resulting in a hostile work environment for those female faculty and staff who were not in a relationship with him, the suit states.

“But rather than addressing the actions and behaviors that were the subject of Dr. Walske’s complaints, UCLA retaliated against her,” according to the suit.

As part of the alleged backlash, then-Anderson School Dean Antonio Bernardo refused to allow Walske to interview for the position of faculty director of Impact@Anderson, a position she had held on an interim basis for close to two years, even though the Impact@Anderson Advisory Board, the associate dean of development, and students advocated for the plaintiff to have the role, the suit alleges.

UCLA also reduced Walske’s course numbers and her salary by 60% and despite repeated requests from students and others that the plaintiff be assigned to her regular classes, the university stripped her of all teaching duties, reducing her pay to a fraction of her regular salary and threatened to cut off her health insurance unless she signed a settlement agreement, according to the suit.

UCLA’s Title IX Office promised to do an investigation of Osborne and although many people corroborated Walske’s claims, the Title IX investigator ignored Osborne’s alleged disparate treatment of women, failed to consider whether his conduct constituted harassment and ultimately concluded that his conduct did not constitute gender discrimination, according to the suit.

The investigator’s written report, however, corroborated Walske’s complaint of an improper romantic relationship between Osborne and a subordinate, the suit states.

UCLA allowed the Title IX Office to be used against Walske by allowing a someone affiliated with Osborne to initiate an investigation of false allegations that the plaintiff harassed a UCLA Anderson School staff member on the basis of pregnancy, when in reality Walske had supported and advocated for that person’s career advancement, the suit states.

Then, as its final act of retaliation, UCLA informed Walske that she would not be re-appointed for the 2022/23 academic year, the suit states.

“When Dr. Walske accepted the position with UCLA Anderson, she could not have imagined that she would have to file this lawsuit,” the suit states. “She has given the university every opportunity to do the right thing by returning her to her teaching and other roles.”

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