Taking it to Court: 1975
Lamphere filed a grievance against the Department of Anthropology and the University, contending that the Department's procedures were unfair and that in denying her tenure, Brown was continuing the discrimination that had resulted in so few women on the faculty, especially tenured women. Lamphere further argued in her grievance that her "recent scholarship and teaching focused on women have adversely affected the [tenure] decision."
The University and the Anthropology Department denied Lamphere's allegations, invoking the university's budget problems as the main reason that Lamphere and others faced diminished tenure opportunities. Leis said that the Anthropology Department had not objected to the content of Lamphere's scholarship and that she probably would have gotten tenure if the economic crisis on campus had not required tenure candidates to be held to a higher standard than previously.
The Ad Hoc Faculty Committee considering Lamphere's grievance did not have the authority to decide whether her scholarship and teaching warranted tenure. Focusing solely on procedural issues, the Committee found irregularities in the way the department had conducted Lamphere's review but did not find that they amounted to sex discrimination.
On May 9, 1975, Lamphere filed a class action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against Brown University and President Donald F. Hornig, Provost Merton F. Stoltz, and Anthropology Department Chairman Philip E. Leis in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island (Civil Action 75-0140), alleging sex discrimination against her and a class of women faculty members. The case was assigned to Chief Judge Raymond J. Pettine.
The shift from a university grievance to a federal court case, especially a class action, changed and broadened the framework for discussion. Issues that fell outside the jurisdiction of a faculty grievance procedure, such as the question of merit in scholarship and teaching, found a place in court.
A committee of senior administrators chaired by the President concurred in the denial of tenure.
Support for Lamphere
Throughout the time when Lamphere was appealing her decision and pursuing litigation, many students and faculty wrote letters and petitions protesting the university's actions. They raised funds to pay for her counsel, and some worked closely with her to prepare for trial. 1,230 students signed a petition protesting denial of tenure to Lamphere.
Lamphere v. Brown
As in any litigation, each side in the Lamphere case had the opportunity to frame its own narrative about what had happened and what the events meant as a matter of law.
Lamphere argued that the Department of Anthropology and Brown University had discriminated against her and other women. She alleged that discrimination was apparent in such behavior as:
- Holding women to stricter tenure standards than men
- Failing to put in place objective procedures and criteria for hiring and evaluating faculty, thus allowing personal and sometimes sexist prejudices to affect employment and tenure decisions
- Having in place no meaningful procedures for review of a department's employment decisions
Lamphere also argued that the very fact that there were so few women on the faculty, especially tenured women, was proof of discrimination.
The University denied her allegations. it defended its actions by asserting that:
- The number and percentage of women faculty being hired fully reflected the available pool of qualified women
- Contract renewal rates for non-tenured faculty were higher for women than for men
- Standards for tenure could change and become more stringent when budgetary constraints limited the number of tenure lines available to departments
Crucially, the University stressed the importance of faculty autonomy in tenure and hiring. It argued that peer review guaranteed faculty quality and that the tenured faculty, and not the courts, were best qualified to make objective, professional evaluations of a candidate's accomplishments.
Over Brown's opposition, the court certified a broad class of women faculty, including those who were employed by Brown and those who might have been hired if not for discrimination against women.
The certification of a class mean that Brown faced the prospect of litigating a case that would deal not only with Lamphere and the Department of Anthropology, but also with all departments; not just with a single tenure decision but also with all hiring, contract renewal, and promotion decisions.