Jury Says Penn Guilty of Gender Bias

A federal jury found the University guilty of sexual discrimination when it passed over a qualified male applicant for the head coaching position of the women’s crew team in 1997. It ordered Penn to pay $71,996 in lost wages, $18,130 in compensatory damages, and $25,120 in punitive damages to Andrew Medcalf, whose 15 years of coaching experience included seven years at Penn as assistant coach of the men’s crew team [“Gazetteer,” September/October 1999]. Medcalf is also entitled to petition the court for an award of attorneys’ fees.

The University’s lawyer, Neil Hamburg of Hamburg & Golden in Philadelphia, said he was “extremely distressed” by the verdict in U.S. District Court because he believed the evidence showed that Penn had “clearly hired the most qualified candidate for the position.” The woman hired was Barb Kirch CGS’84, who had been head women’s rowing coach at Dartmouth College for nine years as well as a two-time Olympian while a student at Penn.

But Medcalf claimed he was not even given an interview since the Department of Athletics was set on hiring a woman.

“The jury understood that Mr. Medcalf was plainly the most qualified candidate for the position,” said Lawrence Woehrle, Medcalf’s attorney. “By awarding punitive damages, they concurred that it was outrageous for Penn to engineer the hiring process so that only women were interviewed.”

In his closing argument, Hamburg told the jury that Medcalf’s case turned civil-rights laws on their head because Medcalf was insisting that a less qualified, white, male candidate be chosen over a woman.

“We’ve made a motion to have the judge reverse the jury verdict on the grounds that it’s completely inappropriate and an aberration and contrary to law,” said Hamburg. That motion was still pending before Judge Herbert J. Hutton as the Gazette went to press last month.

“We are disappointed with the verdict,” added Penn spokeswoman Phyllis Holtzman. “We believe we hired the most qualified person for the position—that being Barb Kirch—and we stand by that decision. We will appeal.”

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