EUGENE — The University of Oregon has hired a high-profile Washington, D.C., lawyer to seek a Supreme Court review of a case in which a graduate student alleges the school retaliated against her for complaining about discrimination.
The lawyer is Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general who represented Al Gore in the contested 2000 presidential election, the Eugene Register-Guard reported. Katyal also represented a Guantanamo Bay detainee in his bid to be heard in civilian court.
The Oregon case involves Monica Emeldi, who in 2007 was working on her dissertation and complained to administrators that her adviser, Robert Horner, did not give her the help that her male counterpart received and that the department was short of female faculty members.
Horner quit as her adviser. Fifteen faculty members afterward declined to take on the task. Unable to finish her degree without an adviser, Emeldi dropped out and sued under the federal law known as Title IX that requires equal opportunities for both sexes.
Federal Judge Michael Hogan dismissed the case, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found there was enough evidence for a trial.
David Force of Eugene, Emeldi’s attorney, said the university hopes to overturn a test widely used to determine whether such cases go to trial.
The “burden-shifting” test says that a discrimination claim has to show a level of evidence that discrimination or retaliation occurred, and once that level is achieved, the burden shifts to the defendant to show a plausible, nondiscriminatory reason for the actions.
The university argues that the 40-year-old test creates confusion and has outlived its usefulness. Katyal said in a petition last week to the high court that there were “severe academic conflicts” between the student and her adviser, with no evidence of retaliation.
The Supreme Court accepts only a few of the cases submitted to it.
Force said Emeldi now lives in California and has completed her doctoral curriculum except for the dissertation. She’s asking the university to let her return and finish. She’s also asked for $310,000 in compensation for the time she’s been out of work and unable to find a job in her field.