Engineering professor sues University, alleges discrimination because of pregnancy

Lauren Grobe

In a lawsuit filed against the University last week, engineering assistant professor Evdokia Nikolova said she was discriminated against and denied tenure during the 2018-2019 academic year because of her pregnancy.

According to the lawsuit filed in the Western District Court, the University violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex-based discrimination, including discriminating on the basis of pregnancy.

Nikolova took leave due to her pregnancy in the 2015-2016 academic year, and she was up for tenure in the electrical and computer engineering department in the 2018-2019 academic year, according to the lawsuit.

During her tenure review, the lawsuit says Nikolova was highly recommended for tenure but was denied by engineering Dean Sharon Wood. Nikolova said she was held to a higher standard because of her pregnancy, according the lawsuit.

“The Dean specifically mentioned that Dr. Nikolova became pregnant during the 2015 fall semester and used this fact in a negative manner as part of the Dean’s assessment recommending the denial of tenure,” the lawsuit states.

University spokesperson Shilpa Bakre denied a request for comment and said the University does not typically comment on pending litigation. Nikolova’s lead attorney could not be reached for comment.

All but three members of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Budget Council, all of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department’s associate professors and Cockrell’s Tenure and Promotion Committee voted to promote Nikolova to a tenured professor, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, “professor Nikolova has performed service to the University and the professional community that is significantly above the level of an assistant professor.”

Assistant professors are typically considered for tenure in their sixth year, after working for five academic years, according to the lawsuit. At the time Nikolova was being considered for tenure, she had been working as an assistant professor for four and a half years at UT and two and a half at Texas A&M, according to the lawsuit

According to the lawsuit, ECE department chair Ahmed Tewfik told Nikolova when she was recruited that her years at Texas A&M would count toward her tenure review period at the University. According to the suit, Wood did not consider the years Nikolova worked at Texas A&M.

Wood said in her assessment one of the reasons she denied Nikolova for tenure was because Nikolova was being considered too early, according to the lawsuit. According to UT’s handbook of operating procedures, prior work at other universities does not count toward the time required for tenure.

“If this were an up and out case, I would likely agree with the recommendation of the Promotion and Tenure committee,” Wood wrote in her assessment, according to the lawsuit. “However, Dr. Nikolova is being considered for promotion at UT-Austin two years early.”

According to the lawsuit, Nikolova is suing for lost wages and benefits and the loss of career advancement because her tenure review period was considered shorter due to her pregnancy leave.