Male professor claims discrimination

Haley Barnes, News Editor
September 4, 2014

Dr. Christopher Niebauer, associate professor of Slippery Rock’s Psychology Department, filed a claim on Aug. 28, 2014 against the university for gender discrimination. You may read the full complaint here.

“Slippery Rock University’s discrimination and harassment policy seeks to provide an environment free from discrimination, including the form of discrimination recognized as harassment based upon, race, color, gender, national origin, religion, age, disability and/or veterans’ status in accordance with applicable federal and state laws and regulations,” according to the SRU website.

For Niebauer, Slippery Rock’s discrimination and harassment policy has not applied over the past eleven years, resulting in him filing a 12-page lawsuit against the University.

Slippery Rock’s Psychology Department is comprised of eight professors. Niebauer is the only male of the department. A majority of staff who supervise the Psychology department are female as well, with the exception of Philip Way, Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs. 

According to Niebauer’s claim, the Gender Discrimination began back in 2005 when the Psychology Department refused to hire a woman because she was pregnant. According to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it is illegal to not hire a woman based upon pregnancy and pregnant women must be treated in the same manner as applicants and employees with the same abilities. Neibauer’s claim said he voiced this to his superiors.

Later that year, Niebauer applied for an associate professor position and was granted the position, even though the Health, Environment, and Science dean, Dr. Susan Hannam, recommended he should not be promoted.

In 2010, Niebauer noticed that the department hired a woman over a man who was more qualified for the job. His claim states that the department re-hired the same woman for the 2011-2012 academic school year and mended the criteria to cater to her experience. The department aimed to limit the number of applicants to ensure her rehire. Holly McCoy, Assistant Vice President of Diversity and Equal Opportunity approved of the terms. Universities are against Slippery Rock’s hiring policy.

Niebauer’s claim said he protested against the bias of the department, but in response to his protest a female colleague said, “Now you know what it’s like to be bullied.”

Niebauer continued to protest the bias of the Psychology Department, but female colleagues began to complain that Niebauer made personal attacks and behaved unprofessionally toward them. On Dec. 7, 2012, Niebauer was subject to investigation and was told to act professionally at all times and not make regards about against the Psychology department in the future, according to his claim.

In 2013, Niebauer was removed from a research committee for the University.

Niebauer also believes there has been gender bias towards male psychology students. Niebauer’s claim said that male students will often tell him that they are excluded from class activities and receive lower grades than female student for no reason. According to his claim,  Dr. Catherine Massey, Associate Professor of Psychology approached Niebauer having a conversation with students and said, “Lesbians only hang out with males because they are easy to manipulate.”

Niebauer has sent complaints based upon the number of students who complain about the department. He wanted to keep the names of the students confidential, but McCoy demanded the names and therefore, he refused. McCoy said that the conversations he had with students were not subject to be confidential and he must report the names. Niebauer’s claim said he felt this was a threat if he did not do as she said.

Niebauer overall feels very excluded from the department, as the faculty meeting occurs during a time he teaches and his classes have been replaced with introductory classes. 

On Aug. 11, 2014, Niebauer went to his lab and found all of his equipment was boxed up including his computer, which had valuable research material on it. When the Dean was contacted, she said this was a mistake and his computer would be found. Niebauer received his computer 11 days later.

However, one female professor in the department does share Niebauer’s concern and made complaints similar to his resulting in the investigation of this female professor for “unprofessional behavior.”

Niebauer’s claim states, overall, the department has created a very hostile environment for Niebauer and he feels he will never be promoted to full professor. As a result of the gender bias and unfair treatment, Niebauer has stress and anxiety. He also suffers from bruxism and must visit the chiropractor regularly.

Niebauer said this is not the first time treatment like this has happened at the university and he is surprised that students do not know about the others cases. He said students often approach him with questions and support in regards to his case.

“I definitely agree that the department is biased in almost every way,” a psychology major who wished to remain anonymous said. “As a student that works a lot with the faculty, it is noticeable that the department favors females. I had thought nothing of only having one male professor in the department at the beginning, but now having been here a while I notice that it’s not just that. During department meetings with students and just faculty I notice that he is excluded, but also has no intention on being included. I have also heard drama and gossip throughout the mostly female department about how he doesn’t get invited for various reasons that are unheard of. With this, I now somewhat have an understanding of why we only have one male professor. If others were to apply, or have applied in the past, I can see them absolutely getting turned down over a female for no reason other than that. I love the department, but with typical female attitudes, you can understand from an outside perspective how much attitude the department can carry.”

The university was unavailable to comment.

“It is university policy that we do not comment on litigation,” Rita Abent, Executive Director for University Public Relations, explained.

Dean Hannam, Provost Way, Psychology Department Chair, Dr. Jennifer Sanftner, McCoy, and Massey were all mentioned in the lawsuit. Each chose to provide no comment on the lawsuit.

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