Harvard Library Assistant Loses Discrimination Lawsuit

Woman alleged that she'd been passed over for promotions because of her looks.

A Harvard University library assistant has lost her legal battle against the institution for gender and racial discrimination. Desiree Goodwin's lawsuit alleged that she had been repeatedly passed over for promotions for 11 years because she was perceived as being "too pretty." The trial concluded on Monday, after the jury took only four hours to deliberate in favor of the university, The Associated Press reports.

A spokesperson for Harvard told the AP that the university was pleased with the ruling, stating that the jury agreed that the university's employment decisions are based on an applicant's skills and work history.

Goodwin, 40, originally filed a complaint against Harvard in the fall of 2003, after she had been passed over for 16 different promotions at the school since she began there as a library assistant in 1994. Goodwin, a Cornell graduate, obtained a Master's Degree in English and another in library science from the school nearly six years ago, but has not been able to move up the ranks despite many years of experience as a trained librarian.

"Initially, when I wasn't getting things, I didn't think much of it, but then when you start to not get responses on any application, you start to wonder what the problem is," she recently told MTV News.

In December 2001, Goodwin claims that a female supervisor told her she would never advance at Harvard because people would not be able to take her seriously. "The words that were used were that her colleagues only saw me as a 'pretty girl' who wore sexy outfits," she said, such as low-cut shirts and tight pants. The library aide began to grow more suspicious of her supervisor's motives when she began asking her to confide more information in her than was necessary, like jobs she was intending to apply to. After one of the job interviews, Goodwin later found out her supervisor was a reference for one of her competitors.

Goodwin says the comments she received destroyed her self-esteem and made her overly conscious of showing off her body. She began wearing baggy clothing and refused to wear outfits that would draw attention to her curves.

"At first, I was just stunned. I felt belittled, and I became extremely self conscious about my figure," she said. "Being in that atmosphere, I felt stifled. I was afraid to talk or speak up, and if you don't speak up at a meeting, you're seen as incompetent." When Goodwin finally gathered up the nerve to voice her ideas, her boss immediately dismissed her comments.

A statement issued by Harvard said that Goodwin's case was without merit, pointing to the 2003 rulings by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which dismissed Goodwin's case without a hearing, stating that the supervisor's comments demonstrated no real racial or gender bias.

Goodwin is still working as a billing supervisor and reference assistant at the Frances Loeb Library at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, under the same supervisor who made the comments in question. However, she says the atmosphere has been lighter for her since the lawsuit came out.

Despite the defeat, Goodwin still plans on telling the world her story, if only to encourage other young women to speak out and take a stand.

"If my story, in any way, can help anyone to have hope that they can overcome the obstacles and difficulties in our lives, then that's what I'd like to do," she said.