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U. of Oregon Seeks Supreme Court Review in Lawsuit by Ex-Ph.D. Student

In a legal case that university officials say goes to the heart of the graduate student-professor relationship, the University of Oregon has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appellate court’s ruling that allowed a former doctoral student’s discrimination lawsuit to go forward, The Register-Guard, a newspaper in Eugene, Ore., reported.

The case was brought by Monica Emeldi, who was a doctoral candidate in the university’s College of Education in 2007 when she complained to administrators that her dissertation adviser was not giving her as much help as a male counterpart was receiving. Her adviser then quit as chair of her dissertation committee, and 15 other faculty members afterward declined to take on the task, leaving her unable to finish her degree. Ms. Emeldi sued under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, asserting that the university had retaliated against her for complaining about discrimination.

The university, which has hired a prominent Washington, D.C., lawyer to press its appeal, argues that the adviser’s decision to step down was an “exercise of academic judgment unaffected by discrimination.” It wants the Supreme Court to limit the use of a “burden-shifting” test that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit applied in its ruling last fall. That ruling found that the adviser’s resignation and Ms. Emeldi’s complaint of discrimination were “not completely unrelated” and said the case could proceed to trial.

A lawyer for Ms. Emeldi told the newspaper that the university had “severely punished” his client for pointing out inequities and that it was eager to avoid a trial because “they don’t want a jury to see that.” Ms. Emeldi, who now lives in California, is asking the university to let her return and finish her degree. She is also seeking monetary damages in compensation for the time she has been out of work and unable to find a job in her field.

It is not known when the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case. In general, the court accepts only a small percentage of the petitions for review that it receives each year. If it rejects the university’s petition, the case would go back to a trial court for further action.

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