On campus

Federal judge sets discrimination lawsuit against Tech for trial

A case alleging discrimination against a female Tennessee Tech faculty member has been set for trial.

Associate Professor of English Kristen Deiter filed the federal lawsuit against Tennessee Tech in July in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee alleging she was discriminated against when seeking a promotion.

Claims brought against the university stem from a personnel decision made by Provost Dr. Lori Bruce and President Phil Oldham in 2021 where Deiter was denied a promotion.

Deiter, according to the court documents, has been published in two internationally known peer-reviewed journals, has published a book review, and presented papers at international conferences domestically and abroad. She was also the recipient of Tech’s Scholar-Mentor Award that honors faculty that display accomplishments in mentoring, scholarship, research and teaching.

“[Deiter] was qualified for the promotion to professor,” according to her attorney, Joseph Hubbard. “She received an overwhelming majority in favor of her promotion [in her department]: six of the eight evaluators voted to recommend her promotion.”

Despite her qualifications and peer recommendation, Bruce allegedly recommended that Deiter not be promoted and did not provide “justifiable reasons for her disagreement with the prior recommendations,” according to the lawsuit.

“Contrary to TTU policy, Dr. Bruce did not write a letter to the plaintiff’s unit peers, to the plaintiff, to the unit chairperson, or to the dean explaining the reasons for her disagreement,” the lawsuit says. “Instead, Dr. Bruce summarily concluded that ‘there is not adequate documented evidence to satisfy these criteria.'”

The lawsuit alleges that the rejection was discriminatory in that male associates have been promoted to the rank of professor “with fewer or an equal number of peer-reviewed publications.”

“The attitude of Dr. Oldham towards the plaintiff in singling out the plaintiff for treatment that differed from TTU’s standards for promotion and that differed from TTU’s treatment of similarly situated male associate professors is evidence of the discrimination against the plaintiff,” the documents stated.

Deiter asks that she be awarded compensatory damages and that the court order the university to promote her into the position “she would have had.”

Tennessee Tech attorneys deny the allegations in an answer to the complaint stating, “TTU had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its actions regarding Dieter, and was in no way motivated by illegal discrimination.”

The case is set tentatively for trial in June of 2024.