Judge limits scope of gender-discrimination lawsuit against Salk Institute

Cancer researcher Beverly Emerson’s suit will go to trial in December.

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A fountain at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.

A California court ruled that a gender-discrimination suit filed against the Salk Institute can go before a jury.Credit: Jeff Badger/Alamay

A California court has thrown out a retaliation claim in a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. On 30 August, a judge dismissed molecular biologist Beverly Emerson’s claim that the institute, in La Jolla, California, let her contract expire in December 2017 because of the discrimination suit, which she had filed in July of that year.

The court also ruled that a key piece of evidence for that claim — an e-mail from Salk’s former president, Elizabeth Blackburn, suggesting that litigation might hurt Emerson’s career — is confidential material that should not go before jurors.

Emerson alleges that systemic bias at the institute limited her pay and professional advancement and blocked her from obtaining resources such as research funding.

During a hearing on the case on 17 August in San Diego, California, Salk’s lawyers argued that most of the individual events that occurred during Emerson’s three decades at the institute — such as a delayed promotion — happened too long ago to be included in the suit. Under California law, people have one year to file charges of gender discrimination after an incident, unless they can prove that the occurrence is continuous.

Emerson’s lawyers countered that the instances illustrated a repeating pattern of bias. “The court when the evidence is reviewed as a whole, cannot conclude as a matter of law that there is no continuing violation,” wrote judge Eddie Sturgeon in his ruling.

The gender-discrimination trial is scheduled for 7 December.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06161-2

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