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Professor who sued MSUM for age discrimination will get $150,000 settlement

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Claudia Murphy2 / 2

MOORHEAD – A former professor who sued Minnesota State University Moorhead for age discrimination has reached a settlement with the university, her attorneys said Friday, June 16.

Claudia Murphy will receive $150,000 from MSUM for wage and nonwage damages and attorney’s fees, according to Schaefer Halleen, a Minneapolis law firm.

A professor in MSUM’s Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program for more than six years, Murphy claimed in a lawsuit that the university required a PhD in WGS, which was not offered anywhere until 1995, as a way to exclude her from a prestigious position in the program in 2015. She was then terminated.

Murphy was 63 at the time. She got her PhD in philosophy in 1981 and had been in the WGS field for two decades. The person MSUM ultimately hired got her PhD in 2015, that same year.

“While my separation from MSUM and its aftermath has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life, I am relieved to put it behind me and hope that I have brought attention to the important issue of age discrimination for an aging workforce and in the field of Women and Gender studies in particular,” Murphy said in a statement through her attorneys.

MSUM said in a statement that, “We strongly denied the allegations made in court by attorneys representing Claudia Murphy and are pleased that we were able to reach a settlement that brought this dispute to a close.”

The university said it remains “committed to building a campus community that is diverse, globally aware and just.”

The lawsuit was filed in 2016 in Ramsey County, but the venue was later changed to Clay County.

The heart of the dispute between Murphy and MSUM, as portrayed in her complaint, was whether requiring a PhD in WGS is justifiable.

The complaint said Murphy had helped build the WGS program at MSUM while also teaching philosophy, and when the program created a new position to focus on just WGS, she was the first person the program director called. The director, Kandace Creel Falcón, even asked Murphy to help craft the requirements for the job since she had essentially been doing it for years.

Falcón and a search committee agreed that one requirement would be a PhD in WGS, feminist studies or a related field.

Randy Cagle, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences dean, overrode the search committee, deciding that only a terminal degree in WGS or feminist studies was acceptable. The lawsuit said Cagle knew older scholars like Murphy would be disqualified because WGS is a relatively new field but argued it would improve the “image” of the WGS program and was required by the accrediting agency. Murphy said that’s not so because WGS is well-known as an interdisciplinary program, meaning scholars from many related fields are involved and the accrediting agency actually didn’t have such a requirement.

Murphy appealed to MSUM’s human resources department and university President Anne Blackhurst, but both declined to intervene.

In her suit, Murphy accused the university of age discrimination and retaliation when she complained. She sought damages of at least $250,000.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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