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A unanimous Connecticut Supreme Court panel has found insufficient evidence of sex discrimination in chemistry instructor Leslie Craine’s case against Trinity College, further reducing a $12.6 million award of January 1999 — then the highest denial-of-tenure verdict ever returned in the U.S., according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The high court overturned the findings of a predominantly female jury and a female trial judge, but sustained a breach of contract verdict that the Hartford, Conn., liberal arts college had violated its own standards of fairness, shifting ground rules in the midst of Craine’s tenure review process. Craine’s lawyer, Jacques J. Parenteau, had urged the jury to “send a message” about unfairness. But by Dec. 1999, trial judge A. Susan Peck had whittled that figure down to just over $3 million, imposing federal caps on sex discrimination awards, and reducing portions of the jury’s emotional distress awards. The case marked the first trial loss in 13 years for Felix J. Springer, head of the employment law section of Hartford-based Day, Berry & Howard, which is Connecticut’s largest law firm. He vowed right after hearing the verdict that Parenteau and his client would not see “a dime” and dubbed the award a runaway verdict by a jury that had “left the rails.” A few days after the stunning verdict, Springer revised his target to $1 million or less, and appears to have hit it, not counting interest. The high court’s award upheld the jury’s $671,304 award for past and future economic impact and $50,000 in emotional distress losses for a total of $721,304. CRUMBLED COOKIE The message from the supreme court on sex discrimination was clear. Without stark evidence of sex-based bias, gender discrimination won’t show up on legal radar. The case for sex discrimination was based on one member of the promotions committee analogizing her microscale chemistry experiments to a “cookie recipe.” Sullivan and the other justices — Flemming L. Norcott, Richard N. Palmer, Christine S. Vertefeuille and Peter T. Zarella Jr. — didn’t bite. The opinion noted that even Craine herself had described some student work as “cookbook” style experiments. This showed, Sullivan wrote, “that thinking of chemistry in terms of cooking was neither unique to men nor denigrating to women.” Springer commented that it was “An extremely narrow fact-based decision,” which will not have a negative effect on institutions’ ability to exercise academic judgment. Parenteau said Springer had mischaracterized the state supreme court’s 1996 case of Gupta v. New Britain Hospital to argue that colleges need a free hand to choose its teachers, and must be free of judicial intervention in hiring decisions. That “educational malpractice” and employment case involved a second-year surgical resident whose supervisors determined he was dangerous, indecisive and not a good candidate for surgical specialization. The court said Gupta focuses on an institution’s right to grade students. “The court put Gupta in its place,” said Wesley W. Horton, who argued the high court appeal, with Parenteau and Daniel J. Krisch on the brief. Parenteau, who works in New London, Conn., is a principal in Hartford’s Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau. The court found that shifting standards, misrepresentation and Trinity’s failure to apply its affirmative action policy were all possible bases for a breach of contract finding.

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