General Counsel deposed in sex discrimination case, transgender professor

A sex discrimination case filed by the Department of Justice is in the news again, as a judge declared a potentially key witness in the matter will have to testify. The case is United States v. Southeastern Oklahoma University on behalf of former professor Dr. Rachel Tudor. The DOJ alleges that Tudor was terminated as the result of sex discrimination, due to the fact that Dr. Tudor is transgender.

The situation begins with Tudor being hired in 2004 on tenure track as an assistant professor at the university. At this time, Tudor presented as a male. In the summer of 2007, she notified the school that in the upcoming school year, she would begin presenting herself as a female, consistent with her gender identity. During this time, she started wearing a traditionally female hairstyle and clothing and took the name Rachel. This made Dr. Tudor the first transgender professor at Southeastern.

Shortly after notifying the school of the upcoming transition, she received a phone call from an HR representative stating that the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Douglas McMillan, had inquired about firing Tudor. His reason being that her “transgender lifestyle” offended his religious beliefs. The HR representative then advised Dr. McMillan that termination for this reason would be illegal. Jane McMillan (the sister of Douglas McMillan) advised Tudor to “take safety precautions” because some people were “openly hostile” towards transgender people. She also mentioned that her brother considered transgender people to be a “grave offense to his [religious] sensibilities”. This did not discourage Tudor, however, and she continued teaching without noted performance issues.

In 2009, Tudor met with the Dean of her school Dr. Lucretia Scoufos in order to prepare for her upcoming tenure application. It was at this meeting that the Dean became aware Tudor is transgender. Despite being made aware of this fact, Tudor states that the Dean continued to refer to her using male pronouns. Also at this meeting, Tudor made it clear that she felt a faculty member in her department had been discriminating against her, and requested that this person not be a part of her tenure review board. The Dean did not relay the request to the Affirmative Action Officer, who responds to claims of discrimination.

At Southeastern University, tenure must be obtained by all professors by the end of their 7th year of employment. They are not allowed to apply until their 5th year of employment, however. If they fail to obtain tenure, their employment will be terminated. The application process includes assembling a portfolio to be reviewed by the chair of their department, other tenured faculty members, the Dean of the school, and various administrative figures before the final decision being made by the President of the university. Tudor received positive reviews and recommendations for tenure, until her portfolio reached the Dean of her school who, in spite of the praise from other faculty members, chose to not recommend Tudor for promotion and tenure. His letter of denial did not offer an explanation as to why or how he arrived at this decision. The portfolio was then passed to Vice President McMillan, who also wrote a letter not recommending Tudor for tenure without explanation. In February of 2010, Tudor requested the reason for denial from each party, in order to amend her portfolio before it was reviewed by the President of the University. Both the Vice President and Dean refused to offer her this insight, though another non-transgender male English professor had the opportunity to meet with McMillan, for guidance on strengthening their portfolio. This professor was later granted tenure.

The unwillingness to provide her with a fair opportunity for improvement led Tudor to file a grievance with the President of the college, Lawrence Minks. She also requested a hearing by the Faculty Appellate Committee, alleging that she was “denied due process” by McMillan and Scoufos refusing to provide reasoning for their negative evaluations. The FAC eventually ruled in Tudor’s favor, advising for McMillan and Scoufos to provide the missing information. However, that request was also denied by the responsible parties, rendering Tudor unable to supplement her portfolio, and ultimately leading the President to deny her application in April of 2010. His letter of denial did not give specific reasoning for the decision, but simply stated that the specifics would be discussed with her in a separate communication within 10 days. This communication never arrived, also leaving Tudor unable to file an appeal within the necessary time frame. Tudor’s application for tenure was the first in school history to be denied with positive recommendation of faculty and peers.

Eventually in June of 2010, Tudor received a letter identifying the reasons for her denial being that the areas “research/scholarship” and “university service” were supposedly deficient. However, it has been shown that her qualifications exceeded those of at least 3 other English professors granted tenure during her employment with the university. Supposedly, the Dean and VP insisted that they “couldn’t verify” a work listed in her portfolio, however, copies of that very publication sat in the University library. Covers of both clearly indicated Tudor’s role as editor.

Moving forward, Tudor notified her department chair in August 2010 that she intended to re-apply for tenure in the upcoming school year. Before she could do so, she received a letter the following October stating that she would not be allowed to re-apply that semester, saying it was “not in the best interest of the university” and that, among other reasons, he did not think her deficiencies could be corrected so quickly. He also made an odd comment stating that if administration once again disagreed with the faculty recommendations, the situation could “inflame” their relationships. This caused Tudor to once again file a grievance with the FAC who ultimately ruled in her favor once more in December, insisting she be allowed to re-apply that school year.

January of 2011, the Vice President of Business affairs responded to the FAC recommendation, He stated that the administration would not allow Tudor to re-apply because he and President Minks “interpreted” Southeastern’s policy on the matter to mean that applicants may not re-apply after the President declines them.

In May of that year, Tudor was ultimately terminated for “failing” to obtain tenure. Ironically enough, before her employment ended she received the Faculty State Recognition Award for Excellence in Scholarship for the 2010-2011 school year.

After her termination, Tudor filed a complaint with the regional EEOC office. Their investigation concluded that there was reason to believe Tudor had been discriminated against, and they referred the case to the Department of Justice.

The most recent development occurred on August 11th 2016. U.S. District Judge Robin J. Cauthron has granted the DOJ’s motion to compel the deposition of the university’s General Counsel Charles Babb. He will have to answer the federal government’s questions about communications he had with university employees about Rachel Tudor. The discussions included her gender transition and grievances she had filed.