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Peper v. Princeton University Board of Trustees

Decided: May 4, 1977.


Fritz, Ard and Pressler. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, J.A.D.


[151 NJSuper Page 17] Plaintiff Ilene Peper appeals from the judgment of the Superior Court, Law Division, dismissing her sex discrimination complaint against defendants Princeton University and six of its executive officers. The gravamen of her complaint is that she was denied promotion within the University's administrative ranks because of her sex. Having resigned from her position in September 1973, several months after the acts of discrimination complained of, she does not now seek either reinstatement or appointment to a promotional office but rather an award of monetary damages. For the reasons herein stated we conclude that her charge of unlawful discrimination in respect of her nonpromotion in July 1973 to the position of administrative officer was clearly proved and it

was hence error for the trial court to have dismissed her complaint.

According to the proofs below, plaintiff was first employed by the University in 1960 as a secretary to one Arthur Allen, the personnel director of the so-called Accelerator Project at the Forrestal Campus. Allen, who is still employed by the University, testified on plaintiff's behalf. It was not disputed that at the time plaintiff was first hired, Allen's assistant was a Mr. Feehan, whose employment title was that of administrative assistant, the lowest level of the eight-rank administrative hierarchy. Feehan left the office some six months later and plaintiff assumed his duties, having been promoted to the job title of administrative aid, a secretarial position, not an administrative one. Her performance was of a superior nature, and as the office grew, so did the scope and nature of her administrative responsibilities. Allen, impressed with the quality of her work and convinced that had she been a man, she would have been promoted into the administrative ranks, made seven separate unsuccessful requests to his superiors between 1961 and 1965 for her appointment to the administrative assistant position. Although she received regular salary increments, she did not receive the promotion until the middle of 1965, only several months before she first resigned from the University because of her husband's job relocation out of the Princeton area.

In 1968 the family returned to Mercer County and plaintiff was, at the invitation of the then Director of Personnel, rehired as an administrative assistant in the main personnel office. The office at that time was divided into four sections, wage and salary, employment benefits, training and communication, and recruitment. It was the recruitment section, headed by a Bruce Edwards, an assistant director of personnel, to which she was assigned. Apparently at the time of her rehiring the administrative staff in the personnel office consisted of the Director of Personnel, the four section chiefs (assistant or associate directors of personnel

who were at least at the fourth level of the administrative hierarchy) and three assistants, all assigned to recruitment: one Joseph Mignon, one James Barbour, and plaintiff. She was the sole woman. Mignon had come to the University about a year before plaintiff's rehiring and Barbour about a month before. By January 1969 all three had been promoted from the first to the second level in the administrative hierarchy, that of administrative associate. Also in January 1969 Richard Horch, who also testified for plaintiff, took over the personnel office as Personnel Director, a position he held until he left the University in September 1972. The pertinent cast, at least until the events of July 1972, was completed by Horch's hiring of a fourth administrative assistant in the recruitment section, James Oliver, shortly after his own arrival. Oliver was not promoted to the administrative associate level until 1971, an event triggered apparently by Mignon's lateral transfer to the wage and salary section, which had grown sufficiently to warrant employment of an administrative assistant to the section chief.

Horch's testimony, corroborated by the documentary evidence and in no way even remotely disputed, is that from January 1969 until July 1972, plaintiff's job performance was outstanding. She not only competently performed her assigned duties but also initiated a variety of programs which have since become standard University policy. Her responsibilities increased as did the approbation of her superiors. While her merit was recognized by frequent salary raises, she was, however, denied the promotion she sought to the third rank in the hierarchy, the position of administrative officer, and that on the ground that if she were so promoted, her colleagues Mignon and Barbour would also have to be promoted.

In July 1972 Horch, sympathetic with her goal of becoming a higher-level personnel officer, suggested to her that she accept a lateral transfer assistant to the head of the training and communication section, which, like the

wage and salary section experience of the year before, had grown large enough to now warrant a second administrative staff member. She accepted this assignment after receiving Horch's assurance that the transfer would have no adverse effect at all on her promotional opportunities but would, to the contrary, enhance them by giving her in-depth experience with another phase of personnel work. The vacancy thus created in the recruitment section was filled by the hiring, as an administrative assistant, of a second woman administrator, Barbara Smith.

Horch, as noted, left the University in September 1972 and was replaced by William Reed, defendants' sole witness. At about that time there was being formulated an administrative development program for the University as part of its affirmative action policies, the purpose of which was to reverse the statistically demonstrated fact that the higher echelons of the administrative staff consisted primarily of white males. The point of the program was to train persons in the two lowest administrative levels, in which the women were concentrated, so that they, together with members of racial minorities, could progress upwards through the ranks. The development of this program after Horch left the University became the responsibility of plaintiff's original section chief, Bruce Edwards, who was promoted to Associate Director of Personnel. That promotion, in University parlance, was an "in-place" promotion, namely an accession to a higher rank in recognition of merit and the performance of increased responsibilities, without, however, an actual change in the job then being performed. Plaintiff, on learning of Edwards' promotion, again sought promotion for herself but was advised by her section chief that someone else had been already slated for appointment to Edwards' original title of Assistant Director of Personnel, a designation not, however, made until some months after her resignation.

In March 1973 plaintiff was the subject of a glowing evaluation report filed by her section ...

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