My Mom v. Stanford
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.