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Salk Institute settles 2 of 3 gender discrimination suits filed by prominent female researchers

Kathy Jones, left, and Vicki Lundblad in July 2017.
(Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla said Tuesday that it has settled two of the three gender discrimination suits filed against the center last year by a trio of prominent female researchers.

Salk President Fred “Rusty” Gage and two of the plaintiffs — Katherine Jones and Vicki Lundblad — issued a joint statement that reads, in part:

“In recent weeks the Institute’s leadership and Drs. Kathy Jones and Vicki Lundblad commenced discussions in hopes of resolving our disputes.

“Those productive conversations have led to a resolution of all claims between these parties that will enable us to put our disagreements behind us and move forward together at Salk for the collective good of the Institute and science.”

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The statement does not mention the third plaintiff, biologist Beverly Emerson, 66, who left Salk in December when her contract expired. It also says nothing about the settlement terms.

Jones, 63, and Lundblad, 65, are faculty members at the institute.

All three women filed separate lawsuits last year accusing the elite biomedical research center of systemically discriminating against them on salary, promotions and access to grants.

The lawsuits caused an uproar in the scientific community, which was followed by the unexpected retirement of Salk President Elizabeth Blackburn, a Nobel laureate.

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Salk also had to cope with the departure of star researcher Inder Verma, who resigned amid allegations that he had sexually harassed eight women.

The allegations were reported by the journal Science and denied by Verma.

Tuesday’s announcement from Gage comes just more than two weeks before the nonprofit institute is scheduled to celebrate Symphony at Salk, an annual musical and fundraising gala. Last year’s event occurred not long after the three women had sued Salk.

Emerson spoke in July at an event focusing on women in science. Not mentioning Salk, Emerson said discrimination is much more serious when the institute itself knows and tolerates harassment and discrimination.

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“It’s not a matter of one person being harassed by the bad guy down the hall and then going to HR. It’s when the whole organization will collude with the bad guy,” Emerson said at the July seminar in San Diego. She then described a scenario in which an employee goes to multiple people in the organization for help and “no one listens.”

“That is a severe dysfunction of the culture in that organization, and it’s based on the reward system of the organization.”

Emerson intends to keep pursuing her lawsuit, according to a story in Science.

“Dr. Emerson intends to proceed until justice is fully achieved,” Science quoted Emerson’s lawyer, Alreen Haeggquist of the San Diego law firm Haeggquist & Eck, as saying Tuesday night.

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Jones and Lundblad’s attorney, Deborah Dixon of the San Diego law firm Gomez Trial Attorneys, declined to discuss the settlement terms, which are confidential, Science said.

Robbins and Fikes write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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