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Ex-Cornell Professor |Can Pursue Bias Claim

(CN) - The 2nd Circuit revived a former Cornell professor's age and gender discrimination case against the university, saying a decision not to renew a contract is like being laid off or fired.

Margaret Sipser Leibowitz was a professor at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, but the school chose not to renew her contract when it expired in October 2002, citing budget concerns.

Leibowitz alleged discrimination, pointing out that her office fired her and five other females over the age of 50 between December 2001 and January 2003 and then split her teaching duties among three male instructors when she left. The school also refused to consider her for other open positions, according to Leibowitz.

School officials insisted that they did not renew her contract because her travel expenses from New York City to Ithaca were too high, and the school was under a budget crunch. But Leibowitz said a dean ignored a specific request by the director of the university's Long Island office to hire her, and then fired the director for making her the offer.

The 2nd Circuit found that Leibowitz provided enough evidence to suggest discrimination. The university's decision not to renew her contract qualifies as an adverse employment action, the Manhattan appeals court ruled, because it is essentially the same as being laid off or fired.

An employee seeking contract renewal should receive the same discrimination protections of a new applicant or rehire, wrote U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco, who was invited to sit on the three-judge panel.

The court tossed Leibowitz's contract claims, however, because her post-term academic advising work was never part of the contract. Also, Leibowitz failed to show that the university had an unofficial tenure policy for her position, the judges concluded.

The panel reinstated the former professor's discrimination claims and granted summary judgment to the university on her remaining claims.

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