Almost a year after the University stripped him of an endowed chair, cardiology professor Michael Simons MED ’84 filed a second lawsuit against Yale on Tuesday for gender-based discrimination, among other complaints.
Last fall, faculty members, students and alumni at the School of Medicine went into an uproar when the University awarded Simons — who was found responsible for sexual misconduct — with the Waldemar von Zedtwitz professorship. Yale’s decision to subsequently take away the chair from Simons prompted a lawsuit, which claimed that the University caved in to activists’ demands. While Simons eventually dropped the original suit in January, the language in the new complaint echoes his previous accusations of gender-based discrimination and repeated punishment for a single infraction.
“Simons is a Caucasian male,” the complaint states. “The defendants have never punished a female multiple times for the same conduct in any disciplinary action involving sexual harassment. Upon information and belief, the defendants have subjected only Caucasian males to punishment twice for the same conduct.”
Simons’ lawyer Norm Pattis did not respond to multiple requests for comment. University President Peter Salovey and School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern referred the News to University spokesperson Karen Peart.
In a statement to the News, Peart refuted Simons’ allegations of discrimination based on gender and said the University has “an unwavering commitment to uphold standards of conduct essential to the maintenance of a safe, respectful and inclusive campus.” Those standards apply to all students, faculty and staff, regardless of race or gender, Peart added.
In addition to accusing Yale of gender-based discrimination, Simons’ complaint argues that the University violated his employment contract, caused him emotional distress and humiliation, breached his privacy and caused him financial harm. While Yale has provided Simons with financial support even after removing his honorary chair, the University is no longer contractually obliged to do so, the lawsuit stated.
While the previous lawsuit — which was filed in September 2018 immediately after Alpern rescinded Simons’ honorary chair — made similar accusations, Simons’ failure to comply with legal requirements for filing a complaint puts him at a disadvantage. In November, Yale filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and claimed that the complainant failed to sign the documents in person. The University’s memorandum also noted that Simons’ request for injunctive relief — the only demand sought in the complaint — had already been denied by the court.
In January, Pattis called the lawsuit “an administrative formality” and said the professor would be filing a money damages suit in federal court later that month. At the time, Pattis said Simons had outstanding complaints filed in the Department of Education, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
But according to the complaint filed on Tuesday, the federal Department of Education never responded to Simons. The EEOC and CHRO, on the other hand, followed up with releases of jurisdiction, per the new court documents.
In an interview with the News, Katharine Baker — who is a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law and an expert on campus sexual assault — said Simons faces an uphill battle in the courtroom.
“It will be very difficult for the plaintiff to prove that he has been punished more than women because so few women get accused of sexual harassment,” Baker explained. “It happens, but it is much less common. If Yale has a history of treating men of color who are accused of harassment more leniently than it has treated Simons, the question will be whether the egregiousness of the offending conduct is comparable.”
Baker added that employers made aware of workplace sexual misconduct are mandated to take action under anti-discrimination law.
After the UWC found Simons responsible for sexual harassment in 2013, Yale suspended Simons as the chief of cardiology for 18 months. Simons also resigned from his post as cardiology chief and Director of the Cardiovascular Research Center in 2014.
The professor came back under spotlight last fall, when the University awarded him a new endowed professorship in August 2018. Following the public outcry, Alpern clarified that it was not Yale’s intention to confer an honor upon the professor and rescinded the chair.
Simons’ complaint lists damages allegedly incurred by the University and demands that Yale restore the von Zedtwitz chair and compensate the professor for lost wages, emotional distress and attorney’s fees.
Read the full complaint here:
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