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Professor sues IU medical school for gender discrimination

January 24, 2012

A physiology professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine filed a scathing gender-discrimination lawsuit this month, accusing the school of paying her significantly less than male counterparts with less experience.

Subah Packer, 57, wants IU to compensate her for loss of past and future income, and pay her attorneys’ fees. She has worked for IU since 1986 and has been a tenured associate professor of clinical and integrative physiology since 2001.

Since then, Packer alleges, her department has hired five less-experienced professors, all male, and paid four of them substantially more than Packer. Her complaint lists her salary as $74,600, compared to starting salaries of roughly $92,000 for three of the newer hires, as well as $82,000 and $72,000 for the other two.

Packer also alleges that her salary is below the median of the physiology department, which includes 19 tenured or tenure-track professors, even though her teaching load was greater and she had less laboratory space for conducting research. Many of the professors in the department are paid more than $100,000 annually.

“The environment for women faculty members at [the university] has not been good,” Packer’s lawsuit states, adding that IU’s “programs to increase retention and promotion of women are a facade.”

Packer first complained about her salary formally in 2003 by filing a grievance. She withdrew that complaint in hopes that a new chairman of the physiology department would improve her circumstances.

But things only got worse, Packer alleges. In 2004, the new department chairman, Michael Sturek, allegedly “took away” Packer’s lab space and her office space while at the same time assigning her even more teaching duties. Packer said her research output dropped off as a result.

In 2006 and 2007, Sturek gave Packer negative reviews, specifically citing her lower productivity in research. His reviews triggered a formal “review & enhancement” proceeding by the university. Packer survived that process but says she continues to face "retaliation" from Sturek and other IU officials.

In 2009, Packer won the national educator of the year award from the American Physiological Society. During that year, IU had frozen faculty salaries. But even after IU President Michael McRobbie approved salary increases for all IU faculty in 2010, Sturek still did not give one to Packer, her lawsuit alleges. She says her pay has been frozen since 2005.

“Dr. Packer expressed concern for the unlawful discrimination to which she was being subjected and, in response, [IU] intensified the mistreatment of her,” wrote Packer’s attorney John Ittenbach in the lawsuit. “Dr. Packer was badgered, ignored, isolated, and humiliated.”

Packer eventually filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which declined to investigate. She filed her lawsuit Jan. 4 in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.

"They’ve put me in a position where I’ve had no choice," Packer said in an interview. "I want to see a constructive outcome from IU from this. I want to see IU be a better place because I’m fighting for this."

Mary Hardin, a spokeswoman for the IU medical school, said the school would not comment on the lawsuit.

 

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