Last semester, English professor Wang Ping was away from Macalester on sabbatical and in the midst of a discrimination lawsuit against the college. This semester, Wang is teaching a section of Introduction to Creative Writing and “Crafts of Writing: Poetry,” and as of May 15 she and the college have reached a resolution through mediation. She will continue to teach at Macalester.
Lawyers involved say that the result of her case is not typical of similar lawsuits.
“In a situation like this where there’s been a claim of discrimination, it’s very unusual that an institution and a faculty member or an employee can come to a conclusion that maintains the relationship and allows both sides to go forward in a positive way,” said Peter Erlinder, a member of Wang’s legal team and a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. “That almost never happens.”
According to court documents, on December 21, 2012, Wang sued Macalester College under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, claiming that she was discriminated against in the faculty promotion process on the basis of gender, race and national origin.
Wang was hired by Macalester in 1999 and began working as a tenure track assistant professor in the English department in 2001. In 2003, the college denied her request to seek early promotion to associate professor. Wang was ultimately awarded the position in 2005 with full tenure. In 2009, she sought a promotion to full professor and was denied. Court documents indicate that a white male professor in her department applied for and was granted both promotions Wang sought at around the same time, despite producing fewer publications and having less service to the community.
As reported in the February 15 issue of The Mac Weekly, Wang filed an unsuccessful appeal of the Faculty Personnel Committee’s decision to deny her the promotion, based on what she found to be violations of the college’s promotion policies. She then filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a U.S. government agency that enforces federal employment discrimination laws. Wang was ultimately promoted to full professor in the spring of 2012.
Wang’s lawsuit requested compensation for earnings and other benefits she claimed she would have received if not for the college’s alleged discrimination, along with damages for mental anguish and emotional distress and a declaratory judgment against the college stating that their practices towards her promotion were unlawful.
The mediation resolving this lawsuit occurred on May 15 in the offices of Faegre Baker Daniels LLC, the firm representing the college, located in the Wells Fargo Bank Building in downtown Minneapolis. The process began at 9:30 a.m. and did not conclude until nearly midnight, with a few short breaks in between.
Negotiation took place through a mediator, with Wang and her legal team in a room separated from representatives of the college and their legal team. Issues were discussed and resolved through a process referred to as shuttle diplomacy, with the goal of lining up the agreements proposed by both sides of the case. At the end of the process, Wang and Macalester approved a common agreement.
The specific terms of the agreement reached through the mediation are confidential.
Acting President Kathy Murray, who has previously served as Provost at Macalester since 2008, declined to comment on the mediation, but did confirm that the two parties had reached a resolution. Dan Wilczek, the college’s lead attorney in the lawsuit and a Minneapolis-based partner at Faegre Baker Daniels, declined a request for comment on the resolution.
In a statement released through her legal team, Wang explained her relationship to Macalester after the mediation.
“Mac welcomes me back to teach, serve and research as an equal to other faculty and staff. The administration will do their best to make the environment safe and welcoming and nurturing for my return, and I’ll continue to give my best to the students and community,” she said.
Erlinder commended the college’s commitment to the mediation process.
“The fact that the process resulted in this sort of outcome is a mark of the seriousness of Macalester in reaching that outcome,” he said.
Erlinder also noted the change in outlook for the case from the beginning of the lawsuit to the mediation.
“Going from a position of no mediation under any circumstances at the end of 2012 to seriously engaging in mediation that had this positive outcome was really a bold and admirable step taken by Macalester and its administration,” he said.