UW hit with $720,000 fine for withholding records in bias case

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SEATTLE — A King County judge fined the University of Washington $723,000 for withholding public records from a faculty member who sued because she believed she was wrongfully denied tenure at the Tacoma campus.

The documents turned up after Isabelle Bichindaritz lost her discrimination lawsuit in federal court, The Seattle Times reported Thursday.

The documents might have helped her press her case that she was denied tenure because of her gender and French national origin, Superior Court Judge Monica Benton ruled Sept. 11.

University of Washington officials disagree with the findings and the way the fine was calculated and may appeal, said spokesman Norm Arkans.

The UW believes it produced the records on time, but that Bichindaritz did not pick them up promptly.

“We believe we processed the case appropriately, in compliance with all our obligations under the public records law,” Arkans said.

Bichindaritz, worked at the UW-Tacoma’s Institute of Technology from 2002 to 2010 and applied for tenure three times in the computer-science department, according to her lawyer, Jack Sheridan.

She was denied promotion and tenure in 2009 and requested a complete copy of her personnel file to press the discrimination lawsuit.

Judge Benton found that the records, which were produced in four stages, were delayed in delivery anywhere from 70 to 160 days. Several documents were redacted — portions were blacked out — that should not have been.

In other instances, the UW withheld entire documents instead of redacting those portions that it believed were exempt from disclosure, the judge found.

One of those documents was an email between two faculty members that said someone on Bichindaritz’s tenure committee “hinted that we might be picking on Isabelle’s teaching because she is a woman.”

The document’s “absence in the federal litigation permitted the university to argue in the federal litigation that no one had complained that she was a victim of gender discrimination,” Benton found.

Other documents “contained derogatory references about her French national origin,” according to a summary of the case posted by Sheridan on his firm’s website.

The judge found the delays in producing 12,000 pages of public records were intentional and caused Bichindaritz to miss lawsuit deadlines.

Benton calculated the fine of 50 cents per day, per record, to total $723,290