Crime & Courts

Professor candidate claims WSU retracted job offer after she disclosed pregnancy

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An Ohio professor who applied for a job with a tenure track at Wichita State University says officials retracted an employment offer after she told them she was pregnant and asked about campus childcare options.

Wichita State, in response to a Dec. 26 federal lawsuit alleging pregnancy discrimination, says an investigation into Evangeline Heiliger’s claims before she sued “didn’t conclude that the university violated the law.”

Heiliger, a 41-year-old visiting assistant professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies at Ohio’s Oberlin College, says in her suit that she applied for an assistant professor of women’s studies position at WSU in late 2017 and was interviewed in person on Feb. 23, 2018. She says she was offered the job in a March 15 phone call with Center for Women’s Studies director Chinyere Okafor.

It was during that call that she revealed for the first time “that she was pregnant and also inquired regarding the on-site childcare available at Wichita State,” the suit says.

The next day Heiliger wrote an email to Okafor and to then-department dean Ron Matson “expressing her excitement about starting the new position,” the suit says.

But she never got to start.

She says in the suit that Matson emailed her back on March 16, 2018, “indicating that he had become aware that she was no longer available for the position and that they were removing her from consideration.”

“At no point during Dr. Heiliger’s conversation with Dr. Okafor did she ever indicate she was not available to accept the position,” the suit continues.

“In fact, after she (Heiliger) received Dean Matson’s email, she responded to him indicating she was available and eager to begin the position, to which she never received a response.”

Matson, who was an associate professor and the dean of WSU’s Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, retired in June.

WSU general counsel David Moses, in an emailed statement to The Eagle, denied the allegations in Heiliger’s lawsuit, saying: “The university remains committed to creating a fair and equitable workplace and does not discriminate in its employment practices. An administrative agency investigated the (Heiliger’s) claim prior to this lawsuit being filed and didn’t conclude that the university violated the law.”

Heiliger’s attorney, Larry Michel, didn’t return a phone message left by The Eagle last week. A receptionist at his law firm said Thursday that he was in a trial this week and not available. Heiliger didn’t immediately return a phone message left on her line at Oberlin College.

Heiliger is seeking more than $75,000 in damages from WSU, plus payment of her court costs and attorney fees. She’s asking for a jury in Wichita to hear the case.

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.


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