Librarian accuses Harvard of discrimination

Desiree Goodwin, an assistant librarian at Harvard University, speaks on the phone in front of a federal courthouse in Boston on Monday after jury selection in her lawsuit.Chitose Suzuki / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Harvard University librarian claims in a lawsuit that she has been rejected repeatedly for promotion because she is black and is perceived as just a “pretty girl” whose attire was too “sexy.”

As a jury was chosen Monday to decide her federal lawsuit, Desiree Goodwin said she’s been rejected for 16 jobs at Harvard since 1999, when she completed her master’s degree in library science after attending night classes at Simmons College for 4½ years.

Goodwin, 40, also has a master’s degree in English literature, seven years of experience in the library of Boston College and another nine years as an assistant librarian at Harvard.

‘There was nothing I could possibly do’
“I feel no matter how much education I achieved or how many contributions I made, there was nothing I could possibly do that would impress them so that they would open the door for me to allow me to advance,” Goodwin said during a court recess.

She said she was shocked when, in late 2001, her supervisor told her she would never be promoted at Harvard. In court documents, Goodwin said her supervisor told her she was “a joke” at the university’s main library, where she “was seen merely as a pretty girl who wore sexy outfits, low cut blouses, and tight pants.”

She said after the conversation with her supervisor, she modified her appearance and wore more conservative clothing, but she continued to be turned down when she applied for better positions.

Goodwin says in her lawsuit that she has suffered emotional distress and lost $150,000 in wages as a result of Harvard’s failure to promote her since 1999.

University denies discrimination
Harvard denies that it has discriminated against Goodwin. University spokeswoman Joe Wrinn would not discuss the case Monday, citing the impending trial. But in earlier interviews, Wrinn noted that Goodwin’s case was dismissed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

“This case is without merit,” Wrinn said just after Goodwin filed her lawsuit in 2003. “Gender and race were not factors.”

A jury of seven men and one woman was chosen to hear the case, with opening statements scheduled for Tuesday.

At the encouragement of U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro, lawyers for both Goodwin and Harvard huddled in the court hallways Monday to discuss a possible settlement. Neither side would comment.