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Lim v. Trustees of Indiana University

July 19, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. IP99-419-C M/S--Larry J. McKinney, Chief Judge.

Before Flaum, Chief Judge, and Harlington Wood, Jr., and Manion, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Chief Judge.

ARGUED MAY 30, 2002

Dr. Soo-Siang Lim ("Lim") filed suit against the Trustees of Indiana University and Dr. David Burr, the Chairman of that school's medical anatomy department. According to Lim, Indiana University ("IU") engaged in gender discrimination when it decided not to grant her tenure. Furthermore, Lim alleged that Burr acted with intent to deprive her of her civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. After initial proceedings and discovery, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of both defendants. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the decisions of the district court.


In 1990, Lim was hired by the Department of Anatomy at the IU medical school in Indianapolis. At the time of Lim's hire, Burr was the chairman of the Anatomy Department. In his capacity as chairman, Burr assiduously attempted to attract Lim to IU's medical school, *fn1 such that he made several deviations from standard IU policy. For example, Burr offered Lim an entry position as an Associate (as opposed to Assistant) Professor, allowed her to commence her employment with IU two months later than he would have ordinarily required, and helped to award her laboratory almost $250,000 in start-up funds.

Under the terms of Lim's appointment, she would be employed for an initial three-year term, after which she would be reviewed annually, by a faculty committee, to see if she would be reappointed. Assuming that she would, in fact, be reviewed favorably, Lim's employment agreement provided that a final decision regarding her tenure would be made by late 1996. *fn2

IU Medical School's Policies Regarding Tenure

At IU's medical school, a candidate for tenure is reviewed for her proficiency in three principal areas: research, teaching, and service. In order to receive tenure, a faculty member must receive an "excellent" rating in one of these areas and at least a satisfactory rating in the remaining categories. *fn3 Candidates for tenure can, and often do, declare the area in which they believe that they are "excellent." Lim declared to Burr that she was "excellent" in the area of research.

When Burr became chairman of the Department of Anatomy in 1990, he implemented higher standards for those faculty members seeking tenure on the basis of their research. According to these standards, faculty members were expected, inter alia, to publish a minimum of 1 to 2 peer-reviewed research papers per year in good to outstanding quality journals. For at least half of these articles, tenure candidates had to have been listed as first or senior author. *fn4

During the relevant time period, Anatomy Department faculty members who were on the tenure track were required to meet annually with the department chairman to discuss their goals in the areas of research, teaching and service. In addition, tenure track faculty members received an annual review conducted by the Department Primary Committee, which was composed of certain other faculty members from the Department of Anatomy. Tenure track faculty members also received a three-year review from the School of Medicine's Promotion and Tenure Committee.

The process that a candidate must undergo prior to receiving tenure is multi-tiered. First, a candidate must be recommended by the Department Primary Committee. Second, the candidate has to be recommended by the chairman of the Department. Third, the candidate must undergo review by and receive a recommendation from the School of Medicine. Next, the candidate must be approved by the Dean of the School of Medicine. The fifth step entails a review from the University's committee on promotion and tenure. After that review, assuming that favorable recommendations have been given, the candidate must be approved by the Chancellor of the University and the Dean of Faculties. The employment of a tenure-track faculty member who is denied tenure is terminated at the end of his or her current appointment term.

Lim's Tenure Process

In Lim's three year review, the Medical School's Committee voted 12-0 that she had been making "inadequate" progress toward promotion and tenure. The Dean of the School of Medicine forwarded Lim a copy of this review and instructed her to confer with the chairman of her department. During her probationary period and her subsequent reviews with Burr and the Department's Primary Committee, Lim was warned that she was not publishing at an acceptable rate. Indeed, when Lim ultimately submitted her candidacy for tenure in the summer of 1996, she had published only five peer-reviewed publications while at IU. Lim was only the senior author of one of these articles and the first author of none. Accordingly, the Department Primary Committee voted 4-0 against awarding Lim tenure; the School Committee voted 15-0 against awarding tenure; and the University Promotion and Tenure Committee ...

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