Famous San Diego research center accused of sex discrimination

A third professor at the Salk Institute, a research facility in the San Diego area known for attracting top scientists and making breakthrough discoveries in the life sciences, has accused the Institute of discrimination based on sex, joining two other colleagues who have also recently alleged sex discrimination at work.

The basic premise of all three lawsuits is that it is very difficult for women biologists, despite having superior credentials, to advance in the organization, and those relatively few women who do make it to “full professor” are not treated fairly, being passed over for leadership posts, pay raises and other benefits that men allegedly could get more easily.

The Institute has countered the allegations in an aggressive way that some see as unorthodox in the scientific community. Specifically, the Institute has claimed that the first two female scientists who sued were in fact not performing on par with some of their peers in that they were neither drawing in grant money nor putting out the level of scientific work the Institute might expect. It is a standard custom that an institute does not publicly single out individual scientists for critical evaluations of their research.

Elizabeth Blackburn, a winner of the Nobel prize, currently serves as the president of the Salk Institute. In a statement, she denied that the Salk Institute discriminated against the three professors, indicating she thought they were mischaracterizing the circumstances. She pointed to other women who had done very well as professors at the Salk Institute.

It will be interesting for San Diego residents to watch to see how these claims, which are affecting one of the area’s most prestigious institutions, will develop. In the meantime, it is important for California residents to recognize that gender discrimination can rear its ugly head anywhere, even among Nobel prize winners and those who realistic aspire to win the prize. Fortunately, victims have legal remedies.

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune, “Gender discrimination controversy grows at fabled Salk Institute,” Gary Robbins and Bradley J. Fikes, July 20, 2017


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