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On Friday, David Russcol and Rachel Stroup filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Tufts University retaliated against their client, a graduate student who blew the whistle on research fraud in her laboratory, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health. As the complaint alleges: “After Dr. Meadows reported this issue to Tufts, she faced severe and ongoing retaliation, including a delay in her progression through her Ph.D. program; interference with her research at the university; and severe damage to her reputation, including false accusations of theft.” The complaint alleges that in retaliating against her for reporting research misconduct related to a federal grant, Tufts violated the False Claims Act (which protects individuals who report on entities defrauding the government), the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, and various common-law claims including invasion of privacy and defamation. The full complaint can be read here.

Press coverage:

PhD veterinary graduate files $1 million lawsuit against Tufts University because she’s been ‘unable to get a job after reporting her department for faking research and animal abuse’ – Daily Mail

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The United States Justice Department (DOJ) recently announced that it will interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as protecting transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace.  In a December 15, 2014 memo to U.S. Attorneys, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that he has “determined that the best reading of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination is that it encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status.”  The memo acknowledges that this interpretation constitutes an evolution of the DOJ’s thinking on the issue; as recently as 2006 the DOJ defended the Library of Congress’ decision to refuse to hire the most qualified candidate for a position upon learning that she was transgender.  This interpretation should influence all actions taken by the DOJ, both through its U.S. Attorneys, who defend the United States when it is a party in civil suits, and through its Employment Litigation Section which enforces Title VII against state and local governments.

The DOJ’s new Title VII interpretation brings it in line with various other federal entities’ recent interpretations of federal anti-discrimination law.  In 2011 the Office of Personnel Management issued a notice stating that the government’s policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sex in the federal workplace includes non-discrimination based on gender identity.  In 2012 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is a form of discrimination on the basis of sex.  Most recently, in July of 2014 President Obama issued an executive order stating that discrimination based on gender identity is prohibited for purposes of federal employment and government contracting.  Previously the Department of Education and the Department of Justice had already determined that Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education, applies to gender identity claims brought by students.

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