Medical Leave Act, which mandates 12 weeks of unpaid leave and the right to return to work, however, often find themselves pressured to return sooner than they wish and face increased scrutiny, adverse career consequences, and other forms of retribution.65

The odds in sex discrimination cases do not favor plaintiffs. In most sex discrimination cases that reach trial, universities win. Most cases never reach trial, however, because they are dropped or resolved during the litigation process (Box 5-4 for a description of types of discrimination warranting legal action). A report by the American Association of University Women revealed that women academics won only a minority of lawsuits alleging improper denial of tenure.66 Bringing such a case usually entails substantial effort and financial risk and the possibility of being considered a troublemaker. “It taints all levels of your professional life at the university,” according to a woman who sued and ultimately settled with the university. Although the legal process can be financially and emotionally draining, however, it can empower plaintiffs.

Beyond the economic risks of charges, institutional theory calls attention to the role legal sanctions may play in cultivating a normative environment that discourages discrimination. One factor that constitutes firms’ institutional environment is industrial sector. EEO charges and settlements against a single firm in an industry may reverberate throughout the entire industry, providing legal and normative pressure for change and raising legitimacy concerns for recalcitrant firms. For example, a sex discrimination settlement against Home Depot may serve as a wake up call to Lowe’s or other home improvement stores to get more women out on the sales floor.

—Elizabeth Hirsh, University of Washington (2006)67

In some cases, publicity generated by discrimination cases can benefit the plaintiff and women faculty because it attracts the attention of legislators, advocates, and other organizations that can work toward long-term safeguards against discrimination and improvements in hiring and promotion. In Penk v. Oregon State Board of Higher Education (816 F.2d 458


Williams (2006), ibid.


AAUW (2004). Tenure Denied. Cases of Sex Discrimination in Academia. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women Educational Foundation and Legal Advocacy Fund.


Hirsh (2006), ibid.

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