A female geography professor has sued officials at UNC-Chapel Hill, claiming gender discrimination and retaliation for raising concerns of sex and racial discrimination at the university.
The faculty member, Altha Cravey, filed a complaint this week in Middle District of U.S. District Court against the university and three administrators — Chancellor Carol Folt, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Kevin Guskiewicz and Geography Department Chair Michael Emch. She is seeking back wages and benefits, promotion, compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.
She claims she has been denied promotion to full professor while male professors with similar or lesser credentials and experience have been promoted. A university spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday.
Cravey is an associate professor of geography at UNC, where she has been on the faculty for 23 years. Her teaching includes courses on globalization, migration, trans-nationality, feminist geography, Latino studies and Latin American geography. She is also an activist and a frequent presence at student protests on campus, where she has been a critic of Folt, the UNC Board of Governors and UNC President Margaret Spellings.
“Dr. Cravey has been a vocal advocate for the equal and fair treatment of women and minority faculty and students within the UNC system throughout her career at UNC-CH,” the lawsuit said. “Dr. Cravey has frequently exercised her right to free speech and free expression by speaking publicly at rallies and meetings, by publishing op-ed articles and letters, and, at times, by bringing her concerns directly to officials of UNC-CH and Department employees.”
She first received tenure in 2000 and applied for promotion to full professor in 2005, when she was denied, the lawsuit said. Later, she was removed as chair of a diversity committee within the department in 2014.
The year before in a meeting of UNC department chairs, the lawsuit said, Emch discussed a “difficult problem” he was having with a female associate professor who had “no research agenda” yet sought a promotion to full professor. The suit claims that Emch also said a female faculty member was encouraging graduate students to complain about “perceived inequities” and that it posed a problem for his leadership.
In 2014, according to the lawsuit, Cravey took her concerns to a university ombudsperson, complaining that all full professors were male and that they did not appear sympathetic to her feminist-oriented research. The next year, she submitted an application for promotion to full professor, and was again denied.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit said, male professors were consistently promoted and also were assigned graduate student teaching assistants who cut down on their workload. Cravey has been assigned a teaching assistant three times in 23 years, according to the suit.
The lawsuit claims only one woman had ever been promoted to full professor more than 100 years since the geography department was founded.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a “right to sue” letter to Cravey in 2016 after reviewing the case. Reached Friday, Cravey declined to comment.