Trial Ordered in Instructor’s Age Discrimination Lawsuit

By Emma Fletcher in News

Kathryn Scrivener (Clark College / Jenny Shadley)

[Story updated 12/3/14 @ 2:40 p.m.] Correction: In its Oct. 15 print and online editions, The Independent incorrectly reported language used by the state Supreme Court in its ruling ordering a trial in the age-discrimination lawsuit against Clark College filed by English instructor Kathryn Scrivener, who was not hired for a tenure-track position. The court’s written ruling said that neither of the two instructors hired for tenure-track positions, Jill Darley-Vanis and Geneva Chao, fulfilled all of the “desired” qualifications. In its stories, the Independent incorrectly reported that neither of the hired candidates fulfilled all of the necessary qualifications. The Independent intended no meaning other than qualifications the court called “desired.

The state Supreme Court ruled on Sept. 18 that the case of an English instructor who is suing Clark College for age discrimination will proceed to trial.

Kathryn Scrivener was not hired for a tenure-track position within the English department in 2006. She was 55 at the time.

Scrivener is suing the college on the basis of Washington state law against discrimination which prohibits employers from hiring, firing or giving preferential treatment that is discriminatory to anyone over the age of 40 on the basis of age.

Clark hired Scrivener as an adjunct English instructor in 1994. Five years later she was hired as a full-time temporary instructor, and her contract was renewed annually. In November 2005 Clark began to search for two instructors to fill tenure-track positions. Along with 151 other applicants, Scrivener applied for the positions.

Scrivener references comments made by former Clark President R. Wayne Branch in his January 2006 “State of the College” address. He stated, “The most glaring need for diversity [in Clark College’s workforce] is in our need for younger talent. Seventy-four percent of Clark College’s workforce is over 40. And though I have a great affinity for people in this age group, employing people who bring different perspective will only benefit our college and community.”

According to the state Supreme Court, Clark looked for applicants with a master’s degree in English, rhetoric and composition, or professional-technical writing and teaching experience. Of those 152 applicants, 13 met these requirements and were observed by a screening committee during a teaching demonstration.

The committee was made up of five tenured faculty members. Of the 13 who were observed, Scrivener was one of four recommended to former President Branch and interim Vice President of Instruction Sylvia Thornburg. Scrivener was interviewed in May 2006.

Branch hired two candidates, both under the age of 40, Jill Darley-Vanis and Geneva Chao.

According to the court rulings, “Branch and Thornburg hired the instructors based on the screening committee’s recommendations of the finalists, candidate interviews, reference checks, and the needs of the English department and college as a whole.”

The court ruled that Scrivener met all minimum requirements and qualifications, while both Chao and Darley-Vanis did not fulfill all of the “desired” qualifications.

Scrivener argues that because Branch advocated requiring no experience for the position that he was attracting younger applicants. Later he was convinced to look for applicants with at least three years experience.

Scrivener claims that in 2005 Branch hired many faculty under the age of 40. Of the 17 faculty positions filled, 13 were tenure-track and only four of the candidates were over the age of 40, according to court documents.

Clark argues that 74 percent of its employees are over the age of 40.

During the committee’s observation, they noted that Scrivener “lost her place” during her teaching demonstration which caused confusion for students. They also stated that although her “exuberance and passion” was seen as positive, her “up-front style” might be off-putting to some students.

According to court documents, Thornburg stated that at no point did she or Branch consider age in the hiring process. Court documents state, “Thornburg, who is also older than Scrivener, said that she and Branch ‘agreed that of the four finalist[s], Ms. Scrivener was ranked last’ and that the college should hire Chao and Darley–Vanis.”

Scrivener declined request for an interview, but said in an email, “Any and all prejudicial statements that harden the mind and constrict the heart on the basis of race, creed, age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, physical ability, socioeconomic status, and other generalities should be challenged.”

Scrivener referred The Indy to her attorney, Sue-Del McCulloch, who was unavailable for comment.

Clark will be represented by the state Attorney Generals office, according to Tim Cook, Vice President of Instruction.

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