2023 Black Professor Gillian Marshall Wins Appeal; She Did Not Get Tenure from the Mostly White Social Work Faculty and Management at UW Tacoma, But Now She Gets Her Day In Court

May 2, 2023 Tacoma WA

Today The Washington State Division II Court of Appeals rejected Judge Karena Kirkendoll’s October 2021 dismissal of Dr. Marshall’s lawsuit against UW Tacoma for race discrimination and creating a hostile work environment owing to race.  Their 50-page opinion provides a detailed walk through of a mountain of facts supporting Dr. Marshall’s claims.  The Court’s opinion also recounts  decisions by the UW management that supports white privilege and institutional discrimination at UW Tacoma including testimony by experts, witnesses, and internal reports finding discrimination.

Click here to see Court of Appeals opinion

UW-Tacoma Assistant Professor Gillian Marshall, a black woman, has been denied tenure by the white faculty in the Social Work and Criminal Justice unit (it’s now a school) at UW-Tacoma. The denial was allegedly based on the SWCJ faculty’s claim that her scholarship was adequate but not outstanding, and her teaching was poor. UW-Tacoma management rubber stamped their decision, most recently including Dean Keva Miller, who on September 16, 2021, denied Dr. Marshall a merit salary increase on the same basis.

As to evidence of racism at UW-Tacoma, see a 2016 report and a 2017 climate survey that were sent to Chancellor Mark Pagano, and the declarations of Dr. Chris Knaus, Investigator Kimi Ginn, and two declarations from Dr. Melissa Lavitt.  Also, there is a declaration from Expert witness Leah Hollis, EdD regarding bullying in academia. 

The Tenure Process

As to the process and procedures applied to those seeking tenure and promotion, Attorney/UW Professor Mike Townsend provided a good lay person explanation as to what should happen.  His testimony is summarized here.

Plaintiff’s witness on the ins and outs of the Faculty Code is attorney and professor Mike Townsend, who as Secretary of the Faculty Senate, provides advice to the faculty and to the administration, and acts as sort of a librarian chronicling past actions to help guide faculty and the administration with decision-making today. See Townsend Dep. at 1-14. He doesn’t represent individuals or the University in his job. Id. at 33-34.

Dr. Townsend states that the Faculty Code is treated as binding on faculty and administration. Id. at 14:4-18. When pointed to ¶ 24-32 of the Code, which provides that “In accord with the University’s expressed commitment to excellence and equity, any contributions in scholarship and research, teaching, and service that address diversity and equal opportunity shall be included and considered among the professional and scholarly qualifications for appointment and promotion outlined below.” He noted that this is an important section of the Code.  Id. at 18:6-20:20.

Dr. Marshall’s NIH research grant addressed issues of diversity.

Dr. Townsend also confirmed that appointment to the rank of associate professor requires a record of substantial success in teaching and/or research and that both teaching and research are required, “except that in unusual cases an outstanding record in one of these activities may be considered sufficient.” Id. at 23:3-18. See also, 09/24/21 Purdy SJ Dec., Ex. B at ¶ 24-34 (see below).


As to the quality of Dr. Marshall’s research, see the redacted opinions of four distinguished independent external evaluators (typically, and in this case, only the SWCJ voting faculty and management who are voting on tenure and promotion get to see these external evaluations so there is a risk that the content of the opinions will be misstated in public documents.

On September 8, 2020, External Reviewer No. 1 says it all: “The quality of her work is outstanding.” Id. at #12955. No. 1 also noted that she publishes at a high rate in “impactful journals, and states, “With unwavering certainty, Dr. Marshall will continue to be recognized for her research through publications and grants. She far exceeds other scholars who are broadly in aging and health at the same point in their careers.” Id. at #12959. No. 1 goes on to write:

What makes Dr. Marshall’s research trajectory even more impressive is the commitment that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has invested in her and her work. Any award by NIH indicates that Dr. Marshall is recognized as an excellent researcher with an agenda that is and will continue to make a difference, and in her case, in the lives of older adults. To receive a K0l award followed by a Loan Repayment Award followed by an Administrative Supplement is no small feat. It is quite extraordinary. It takes focus, commitment, critical thinking and a solid research plan to even be considered let alone be awarded funding . . . it is widely recognized and accepted that the research and training associated with the grant takes priority over all other responsibilities as evidenced by her scholarship record.

In addition to her impressive funding record, Dr. Marshall has disseminated her research broadly at 13 conferences in her time at the University of Washington Tacoma which demonstrates her interdisciplinary focus, at gerontological, public health, and social work conferences. Id. at #12955-56.

External Reviewer No. 2 also writes a glowing evaluation of Dr. Marshall’s work noting that, “Dr. Marshall’s program of research is noteworthy for highlighting personal, interpersonal, and structural factors that collectively influence health and well-being. Her focus on older Black adults is especially appropriate given their heightened and lifelong exposures to environmental circumstances and psychosocial stressors (e.g., higher rates of poverty, discrimination, reduced access to care) that are significant risks for poor physical and mental health outcomes.” Id. at #12957. No. 2 also notes that,

Dr. Marshall’s research is distinctive from typical research on health disparities in that her work seeks to understand both proximal and distal factors associated with adverse health outcomes and identify the causal pathways that link behavioral, social, and structural determinants of health. Doing so, effectively re-conceptualizes health disparities as health inequities (i.e., avoidable and unjust inequalities) and underscores the systemic and structural features and circumstances that produce and maintain poor health and adverse health outcomes among socially disadvantaged groups.

Id. at #12958. No. 2 writes, “It is particularly noteworthy that she stands out as one of few scholars from a school of social work to be awarded a K Award. In addition, she has been accorded the distinction of being selected an Early Career Reviewer for the Social Sciences and Population Study Section of the National Institute on Aging.” Id. at #12958.

On August 17, 2020, External Reviewer No. 3 wrote, “Dr. Marshall’s [] quantity and quality of work place her in the top 10-15% of Assistant Professors in gerontology across the social and behavioral sciences. Her record is similar to those of Assistant Professors at research intensive universities who are promoted to Associate Professor with tenure.”

On August 16, 2020, External Reviewer No. 4 wrote, “Dr. Marshall has advanced scholarship on the intersection between aging, ethnicity, financial equity, and mental health, an area that is contemporary and much needed in gerontological research I know many young scholars who have applied for K01 awards, Dr. Marshall . . . is the only one I am aware of who successfully obtained this prestigious award.” Id. at #12964. No. 4 also writes, “She is the sole author of a paper published in Social Work, the most widely-disseminated journal in social work that reaches thousands of practitioners and academicians. She also is the first author of nine publications. Her scholarship has been broadly distributed in well-known journals that should target those who can benefit most from her research.” Id. at #12964-5.


As to the quality of Dr. Marshall’s teaching, see the four reviews in her tenure and promotion file attesting to her teaching skill performed by UW-Tacoma qualified faculty.

The following are some of the documents submitted to the Court by Dr. Marshall in pre-trial proceedings. 

The lawsuit produced evidence that white management uses “collegiality” and “fit,” which is often code to support discrimination.  The following is from plaintiff’s response  (at pages 17-18) to defendants’ motion for summary judgment above.

Good Fit And Collegiality–taken from plaintiff’s response (see above)

Being a “good fit” and “collegiality” are codes for discrimination and are direct evidence of discriminatory intent. “Coded language includes statements about collegiality and fit; these are usually applied within a context of questioning whether a potential hire or candidate for tenure/promotion is a good ‘fit’ within a department.” Knaus Dec. at ¶ 10; 101120 Lavitt Dec. at ¶ 39 (“fit” is often code for policies that perpetuate bias and reduce the likelihood of hiring diverse faculty). “The UW, and UW-Tacoma . . . have instituted implicit bias training for faculty that specifically cautions faculty and administrators from using such coded language in considering candidates, but the use of such remains commonplace.” Knaus Dec. at ¶ 10.

In October 2018, during a special meeting called by Dr. Young and the SWCJ faculty, excluding Dr. Marshall, to discuss the reappointment policies and practice following Jill Purdy’s overruling of SWCJ faculty’s recommendation to not grant reappointment to Dr. Marshall. Jill Purdy suggested to the white faculty present that the SWCJ faculty should “create policies with criteria to assess collegiality. 10/11/20 Lavitt Dec. at ¶¶37-39; 10/7/21 Lavitt 1st Supp. Dec. at ¶¶ 2-3. Purdy admitted this to UCIRO Investigator Beth Louie that she told the white faculty it’s “important for the department to develop standards of collegiality so this doesn’t happen.”  Louie Dep. at 94-95:3.

SWCJ Tenured Faculty Rich Furman admitted to attending the October 2018 meeting [with Jill Purdy] but denied that Jill Purdy had talked about “collegiality” or “good fit.”  Furman Dep. at 10:5-13:17.  Similarly, SWCJ Full Professor Charles Emlet denied that Purdy had discussed “collegiality” or “good fit” with the SWCJ faculty. Emlet Dep. at 30:22-31:14 (no, not to my recollection).

Jill Purdy is not the only manager to make a statement showing her discriminatory predilections. In another discussion with Dr. Lavitt involving hiring more persons of color, Chancellor Pagano said to Vice Chancellor Lavitt, “why can’t we find a good one?”  Dr. Lavitt took that to mean a good person of color. 10/7/21 Lavitt 1st Supp. Dec., ¶ 6.

As to Diane Young, Purdy also told Louie that she had “not seen or heard anything from Diane Young that is overtly racist.”  Louie Dep. at 84:17-24. The implication being that Diane Young’s racism is not out in the open.


The following documents have been submitted by UW-Tacoma in pre-trial proceedings in an effort to have the case dismissed before trial. 

A jury trial will be set in Pierce County Superior Court. 

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