My Mom v. Stanford

gavel2_8833By Blair Crangle-Hall

My mother, Colleen Crangle, was the first woman to take a sex discrimination case to trial against Stanford University.

In 1995, after receiving a Ph.D. at Stanford in Logic and The Philosophy of Science and Language she joined the university’s academic staff and was soon recruited to a bioinformatics research group. The American Medical Informatics Association presented her with a prestigious award, and an article in The Biochemist recognized that she had quickly established a reputation for excellence.

Sounds picture perfect. But it was not. 

A male colleague who felt threatened began restricting her scientific activities. She was not to submit proposals for large grants—to do so would be “like the tail wagging the dog.” As The Biochemist explained:

All the senior men at that time had either worked together for close to twenty years or were each other’s former students. A woman had never been on the faculty or senior research staff.

Sitting down with my mother, I asked her to revisit those dark memories:

I had been recognized as the one who had “rescued a floundering project” and I had thought the day had passed when a women would be asked to curtail her activities to avoid threatening men. But once I was no longer desperately needed I became disposable. For the first time, I understood Rosie the Riveter.

So I took a stand and challenged the bizarre restrictions.

But that just inflamed my colleagues. I arrived at work one day to find that my position had been eliminated effective that day.

As my mother spoke her voice trembled with the incredulous anger that I have heard too many times before. For mom, the anger will never leave. Nor should it. It is that justified indignation that drove her to court.

I was terrified taking Stanford to court. They had at least nine lawyers from two law firms and countless paralegals and assistants. They probably spent over a million dollars on the case. Mostly, though, I knew that no discrimination suit against Stanford had ever made it to trial.

Stanford is powerful and they were ruthless. The week before trial they issued an unlawful subpoena to make all my medical records public, hoping to find something to shame and discredit me.

You could see the ‘Old Boys Network’ in the parade of witnesses they brought to trial. Only two people from Stanford were courageous enough to testify on my behalf. The rest closed ranks and presented a united, but absurd, defense that they had been ‘assisting’ me and that I had misunderstood, with my misunderstanding ‘turning to hostility.’ But I had documents, and a ‘smoking gun’ email that proved otherwise.

In the closing arguments Stanford’s attorney dared the jury to believe me, saying,

If you accept Dr. Crangle’s statements of the facts, you have to assume that everyone from Stanford who got on the stand lied to you under oath. Is that reasonable to believe?

That didn’t frighten me. It amused me. To think that, in the end, that is all he had to fall back on: Stanford’s reputation and power. The very next day, after only hours of deliberation, the jurors found in my favor on all matters put before them. They awarded the maximum allowed under federal law for punitive and compensatory damages.

My mother’s face broke into a triumphant smile.

My mom let go of the notion that she must “receive” her place in academic science from the men of Stanford University. After leaving, she started an R&D company, Converspeech LLC, became a Visiting Professor at the School of Computing and Information Engineering at the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, and received three research awards from the National Institutes of Health as she continued the research she had begun at Stanford.

Back then, the university’s sexism simply reflected a common way of thinking in the U.S. Thankfully, Stanford – along with the rest of America — has made great strides to become egalitarian and has greatly improved.

It is women like my mother who paved the way.

One of my students wrote this and gave permission to post it.

March is Women’s History Month.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 20, 2015, in feminism, sexism, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on This Everyday Australian and commented:
    a GREAT STORY

    A great story!

  2. That is an incredible story! I am in awe at her courage.

  3. A wonderful example of the patriarchy being challenged and exposed to be what it truly is.

  4. The heroes of our day–the unsung who just won’t accommodate any longer, who stand up for truth.

  5. Incredible story, it’s really an inspiration when a case like this wins. Makes me think that now more than ever women need to be highly educated and definitely get their degrees and study as much as they can. I used to think degrees were not for everyone; but if one plans to be in a scholarly environment, one needs to really be prepared for these kind of situations; not only scholarly environments, but working environments; although once I was in a situation where I had more academic preparation, and that didn’t matter. So I guess it all depends.

    • A friend of mine didn’t care about schooling when she was in high school. She figured could get married and her husband would take care of her. And then they had hard times and eventually got divorced and she was left raising the five kids who were still at home. Then she decided to go back to college because she realized that having an education would help her to earn more money. But it’s a lot harder when you’ve got five kids to raise at the same time. At the least, I guess education is good insurance.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      • You’re welcome! At least those four years of college (right after high school) were crucial for me, not only career wise, but as an overall “general” education in all areas. Of course, after the B.A., I still didn’t don’t know what I wanted to do, but at least those four years were useful as a foundation to everything else later on.

  6. This is really an inspiring story..some people show us the way and make it easier to follow… 🙂

  7. Women power! Nice post.

  8. A brave woman.. she definitely took steps that made the road a bit easier for those that followed and also- for exposing the institutional sexism. Grateful.

  9. Marissa Martinez

    This is very sad. Women try so hard to be like the boys in this society, yet they still want to be the top dog. This woman work so hard to get where she was at. Then men try to tell her try not to get the best grants because they had their eye on it first. This mother was brave enough to go against one of the best colleges’ and fight what she work so hard for. It was not right for Stanford to try make this woman look shameful to the public eye. I’m grateful there are strong women that are willing to fight for what is right.

  10. Haomeijie Liang

    First of all, I really admire your mother’s courage and her achievement after leaving that discriminating place. This article encourages us that we should fight back rather than give in when we’re discriminated against. Nowadays, racism and sex discrimination are very subtle, but they both still exist in an unobvious way. We, as people who are well educated, should always be alert on these possible inequalities. We cannot assume that the discrimination won’t happen in such a prestigious institution like Stanford. That prestige doesn’t make discrimination disappear, that’s us, the egalitarians, who give discrimination nowhere to hide.

  11. As stated earlier, the mom that had the willpower to take on Stanford was incredible. I could never imagine going forward against a university with that much power no matter what happened to me. I am glad that she won the case in a step forward for equal rights for women.

    I also find it ridicules that the scientist discriminated against her as was described. She had just as much of a right to be there as any of the other male scientist by having her Ph.D.

    Before reading this I would assume that Stanford would have always been ahead of the game on equal rights for women, since they are a world class university. I would assume they look on people for their scientific ability not on the physical appearance. I hope in the future situations like this will never happen anywhere.

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