A female student at the University of Cincinnati has filed a lawsuit alleging that the taxpayer-funded school prevents women from doing lab work alongside men in physics courses.
The plaintiff, Casey Helmicki, filed her lawsuit earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Helmicki, 19, a pre-med major who — obviously — wants to become a doctor, claims that the school violated her rights under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and also under Title IX, a comprehensive 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of biological sex.
Specifically, Helmicki says, she showed up at her physics lab in the fall to find a teaching assistant, Mostafa El Demery, instructing her to sit with female students and to work in groups with female students.
“Women shouldn’t be working with men in science,” El Demery allegedly explained, according to the lawsuit.
Larry Bortner, the University of Cincinnati physics professor overseeing the class, then allegedly wrote to another faculty member who questioned the policy that “having all-female groups is better.”
It’s for their own good, see, Bortner explained via email.
“Physicists are predominantly male,” Bortner wrote in early September. “To change this, we try to make the educational environment open to females. Studies have shown that females do better in small lab groups (three or four) that contain more females than males than more males than females. I train instructors who teach the labs and have told them to rearrange groups if there is one female with three males; if at all possible have all-female groups.”
Amazingly, University of Cincinnati Title IX coordinator Jyl Shaffer defended the public school’s gender-segregated physics labs. Shaffer, who has since resigned, described the segregation as not “inherently inequitable.”
Helmicki sued because she doesn’t think the policy is right.
“As a woman in science, studying chemistry and neuroscience, it was alarming that a school like UC would allow something like this to be permitted in the classroom,” she told the Enquirer.
“This is about the university as a whole,” Helmicki’s attorney, Chris Finney, told the newspaper.
Helmicki ultimately dropped the segregated physics lab and enrolled in a different one. The new one apparently did not segregate males and females.
The student said she later learned that Bortner, the professor who allegedly insisted on segregating grown men and women, had filed a Title IX claim because of her complaint. Apparently, school officials managed the impressive trick of investigating and closing the claim without ever once interviewing Helmicki — the subject of the claim.
“I wasn’t told about it until I got a random email that the complaint was closed,” she told the Enquirer.
University of Cincinnati officials have refused to comment on the lawsuit.