On October 15, 2018, a District of Columbia Superior Court jury determined that American University discriminated against Loubna Skalli Hanna, Ph.D., on the basis of her age, when it denied her application for tenure and promotion. The jury awarded Dr. Hanna $1,151,000 in economic damages and $175,000 in emotional distress damages. Zuckerman Law Principal, Eric Bachman, represented Dr. Hanna with co-counsel Lynne Bernabei, Michael Ellement, and Devin Wrigley of Bernabei & Kabat, PLLC.
Dr. Hanna is an accomplished interdisciplinary scholar, with expertise in Middle East women and youth, in particular the Arab Spring. AU appointed her to a tenure-track position in its School of International Service (SIS) in 2008, and she applied for tenure and promotion in 2013. Six external evaluators who work in the International Development (ID) field outside of AU, a three-person committee of senior faculty within the SIS ID Program, the SIS Faculty Actions Committee, the Dean of SIS, and the university-wide Committee on Faculty Actions each reviewed Dr. Hanna’s application and all recommended her for tenure. Despite the favorable reviews at every level, Provost Scott Bass denied Dr. Hanna tenure.
Dr. Hanna filed age-discrimination and breach of contract claims against American University, and trial began on September 17, 2018. At trial, Dr. Hanna presented evidence of AU President Neil Kerwin’s notes from a meeting he had with Provost Bass about Dr. Hanna’s impending tenure denial. Specifically, President Kerwin wrote “old SIS” next to Dr. Hanna’s name, based on Provost Bass’s statements during the meeting. Dr. Hanna also presented evidence that during an SIS faculty meeting, Provost Bass stated that he “knows it in his gut” when an applicant deserves tenure. Dr. Hanna introduced evidence of Provost Bass’s scholarly works about aging and the role of older workers in the market economy. Additionally, Dr. Hanna offered statistical evidence, which demonstrated that the substantial differences in the rates at which Provost Bass tenured older versus younger tenure candidates were statistically significant. Further, Dr. Hanna presented evidence that Provost Bass tenured younger candidates with inferior publication records, despite her superior record of scholarship, which included two completed books, two books in progress, and numerous peer-reviewed journal articles.