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Engineering Professor Sues UT Over Alleged Pregnancy Discrimination

— September 19, 2019

UT is under fire in a lawsuit alleging pregnancy discrimination.

The University of Texas is in the middle of a lawsuit filed by engineering assistant professor Evdokia Nikolova over allegations that she was “discriminated against and denied tenure during the 2018-2019 academic year because of her pregnancy.”According to the suit, which was filed in the Western District Court, UT violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For those who don’t know, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “prohibits sex-based discrimination, including discriminating on the basis of pregnancy.”

Image of a Pregnant woman
Pregnant woman; image courtesy of piepie via Pixabay,

What happened, though? Well, according to the suit, Nikolova took her leave due to pregnancy during the 2015-2016 academic year and was eligible for tenure during the 2018-2019 academic year in the “electrical and computer engineering department.” However, she was denied tenure by Sharon Wood, the Dean of the engineering department, despite being highly recommended by some of her colleagues. According to Nikolova, “she was held to a higher standard because of her pregnancy.”

The suit further states:

The Dean specifically mentioned that Dr. Nikolova became pregnant during the 2015 fall semester and used this fact in a negative manner as part of the Dean’s assessment recommending the denial of tenure.”

The suit also notes that, with the exception of three members of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Budget Council, “all of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department’s associate professors and Cockrell’s Tenure and Promotion Committee voted to promote Nikolova to a tenured professor.” In fact, the suit claims these colleagues said “professor Nikolova has performed service to the University and the professional community that is significantly above the level of an assistant professor.”

According to the lawsuit, assistant professors like Nikolova are usually up for tenure around their sixth year. When she was being considered for tenure, Nikolova had been working in her position at UT for four and a half years and previously worked another two and a half at Texas A&M. When she made the move to UT, Nikolova was allegedly told by ECE department chair Ahmed Tewfik that her time at Texas A&M “would count toward her tenure review period at the University.

However, Wood did not factor in those years when considering her for tenure and said in her assessment that “one of the reasons she denied Nikolova for tenure was because Nikolova was being considered too early.” She also pointed to UT’s handbook of operating procedures which states that “prior work at other universities does not count toward the time required for tenure.”

Wood’s assessment further said:

If this were an up and out case, I would likely agree with the recommendation of the Promotion and Tenure committee. However, Dr. Nikolova is being considered for promotion at UT-Austin two years early.”


Engineering professor sues University, alleges discrimination because of pregnancy

Lawsuit: UT professor denied tenure because of pregnancy

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