UIC targeted in gender discrimination lawsuit

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • April 13, 2009 @ 8:00 AM

A former researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago who lost her job is seeking tens of thousands of dollars in damages in a gender discrimination lawsuit.

Irina Balyasnikova, a cell biologist, sued UIC in federal court in early 2007, arguing that the university had engaged in gender discrimination against her. She lost her job in December 2006 because she had run out of grant money, both sides agree.

For ten years before that, Balyasnikova had worked in a laboratory in the university’s anesthesiology department doing a variety of lab work, spending much of her time “performing low-level tasks and experiments that could have been performed by students and other non-technical personnel,” she said in an affidavit.

According to her complaint, Balyasnikova was passed up for promotions and paid less than her peers. And the university used grant money she had secured for her own work to fund a male colleague’s research, the complaint says, shortchanging her out of $143,000.

The grants are a central part of the case, since they ran out in late 2006 and the anesthesiology department was under pressure to cut its costs at the end of the year.

Dr. Ronald Albrecht, the head of the department at the time, said in an affidavit that Balyasnikova aggressively sought raises and bonuses during her time at UIC and that by late 2006, “her salary alone was an unmanageable burden for the department.”

While Balyasnikova says male counterparts who also had grants fall through didn’t lose their jobs as a result, her story is inconsistent with Albrecht’s affidavit. He said that Balyasnikova’s superior had recently brought in a large grant and that was a major reason why that researcher had not been terminated.

At the time she lost her job, Balyasnikova was making $58,000 per year, according to court documents. Balyasnikova is seeking damages totally $22,500 in summer pay and fringe benefits, as well as an unspecified amount of back pay.

Balyasnikova’s attorney did not return calls seeking comment, nor did she; her husband hung up when a reporter called his cell phone.

UIC’s attorney referred comments to Mark Rosati, the university’s spokesman.

“I couldn’t comment on a personnel matter or anything in litigation as a matter of policy,” said Rosati, who added he had never heard of the case.

While a settlement conference in the case was slated to have happened Thursday, it was unclear Friday whether an agreement had been reached.

 

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.

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