NYU Academic Blasts Med School as Boy’s Club

     MANHATTAN (CN) — A New York University academic claims in a federal lawsuit that her former departmental chair in an overwhelmingly male medical school faculty barraged her with sexist stereotypes, sabotaged her career and had her fired.
     Dr. OraLee Branch, whom NYU recruited in 2008, says she wrote about 30 scientific manuscripts on malaria and specializes in malaria research.
     Hired as a tenure-track, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Parasitology, Branch says that her academic star initially rose at the university when she traveled to Peru to research and treat an outbreak that infected 2,500 people.
     At the time, she says, she enjoyed working under the tutelage of her former department chair, Karen Day, who consistently praised her accomplishments.
     “The expertise you bring and your global health partnership in Peru make us a world class department and institution,” Day told her in one evaluation, according to a lawsuit Branch filed against NYU on Tuesday.
     But Branch says that her work environment turned hostile once Claudio Basilico took over Day’s position in 2010.
     Throughout the 29-page complaint, Basilico is quoted making demeaning remarks, such as opining that “women are not strong enough to be in science” and that the department resembled an “inbred colony of women.”
     In one instance from late 2011, Basilico refused to help Branch receive credit on a co-writing grant because he said he did not want to come between “cat fighting women,” according to the lawsuit.
     Branch relates another of Basilico’s alleged rants in her lawsuit.
     “He said, ‘women do not belong in science,'” the complaint states. “He took a long drag of his cigarette and blew the smoke directly into her face. With aggressive tone and body language, he told her she was just a ‘girl’ who was ‘naïve and delusional’ if she thought she could succeed in science.”
     On top of the insults, Branch says, the cigarette smoke blown into her face was “shocking” because the conversation occurred inside a hospital laboratory. But Branch claims that this type of offensive dialogue and behavior continued over the next two years.
     Basilico also called Branch “delusional” and told her that she had a “psychological problem for being pushy,” according to the lawsuit.
     After Branch requested an accommodation for an unspecified illness, she claims, Basilico threw her doctor’s note back in her face and said, “You don’t look like you’re dying.”
     According to Branch, Basilico interpreted her health problems as more evidence that women were not fit to be scientists.
     Women sending emails was also a problem for Basilico, who disrupted Branch’s meeting with a different department chair to sound off on the topic, Branch claims.
     “OraLee, the only emails you are allowed to write are love letters to your husband,” Basilico told her, according to the lawsuit.
     Branch says that her once-laudatory performance reviews declined under Basilico, sabotaging her attempts to obtain grants.
     Although Branch says that her direct supervisor seemed to understand, the university’s vice dean, Steven Abramson, did nothing as he adopted a “wait and see” attitude to the harassment, according to the lawsuit.
     Branch says that NYU denied her a tenure extension and fired her in mid-2013, in what she calls part of a larger pattern at the university.
     “Upon Dean Abramson resuming his leadership position, females in senior leadership roles were targeted — pushed out or fired,” the complaint states.
     As cited in the complaint, data from a faculty staff meeting from early 2014 shows that 83 percent of those receiving tenure were male.
     “Additional statistics, taken from NYU’s website at the time of the EEOC’s investigation, are startling,” the lawsuit states. “Upon information and belief, of the total number of department chairs at the School of Medicine, 28 are male (85 percent). Of 30 Deans, 20 are male (67 percent). These statistics evidence an environment overwhelmingly favoring males.”
     The lawsuit names NYU, NYU Medical Center, NYU Langone Medical Center, the NYU School of Medicine, David McLaughlin, Abramson and Basilico as defendants.
     Branch demands punitive damages for eight counts, including gender discrimination, retaliation, breach of contract and other charges. She is represented by Anthony Carabba.
     Basilico and NYU did not immediately respond to email requests for comment.
     NYU is hardly the only academic institution accused of imposing glass ceilings.
     In 2011, the American Association of University Professors released a study called “Persistent Inequity: Gender and Academic Employment” showing that 48.6 percent of tenured faculty were men and 34.6 percent were women.
     This week’s lawsuit echoes a controversy that drew national attention to Harvard University roughly a decade ago, when its president Larry Summers attributed the under-representation of women in the sciences to “innate” differences between men and women.
     Nobel Prizer winner Tim Hunt was also criticized when he talked about the “trouble with girls” at a June 2015 conference.
     “Three things happen when they are in the lab,” Hunt reportedly said. “You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.”
     In response to Hunt’s comments, last summer female scientists posted pictures of themselves at work, often in lab coats, with the hashtag #DistractinglySexy. More than 10,000 tweets were sent within hours of the hashtag catching on, according to a BBC report.

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