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NASA Scientist Hit with Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination Lawsuit

January 14, 2010

In recent employment and labor law news, that our Anaheim, California attorneys have been following, a prominent Tufts University chemistry professor and co-investigator for the high profile NASA 2008 Phoenix Mars Lander mission, is being sued by a former research assistant for the NASA science team--for alleged sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

Suzanne Young, a former Tufts University researcher and lecturer took part in the Tufts University group that helped build and create experiments for the NASA mission--to study the chemical composition soil on Mars and investigate whether life is possible on the planet. Kounaves and his team created and designed a wet chemistry lab on the Phoenix Mars Langer to analyze the soil for life. NASA experiments were led by the University of Arizona, and the headquarters were located in Tuscon.

Young's sexual harassment lawsuit claims that Samuel Kounaves, an associate professor at Tufts and one of the co-investigators of the mission from 2003 until 2009, subjected her to repeated incidents of improper behavior that was disturbing and sexually charged, where Kounaves made consistent requests for sexual favors. Kounaves allegedly told her that her job security and employment advancement in the future would depend upon her sexual consent.

Kounaves also reportedly insisted that Young stay with him on business trips in 2007, and threatened not to pay her lodging reimbursement when she refused the accommodations--even though he would allegedly pay for male colleagues to have separate lodging. Kounaves reportedly only agreed to pay for her accommodations after she reported this to other NASA colleagues.

According to the suit, on business trips, Kounaves would often visit her room late at night with the excuse to "look at data," and would ask Young to take inappropriate late-night night walks with him. Young was also allegedly pressured to spend her meals only with Kounaves during the business trips.

The lawsuit also accuses Tufts University of retaliation against Young. After complaining to the Office of Equal Opportunity at Tufts, her teaching and research contracts were reportedly not renewed. Young claims that Tufts failed to properly investigate the situation and then retaliated against her by failing to renew her contract and in the end wrongfully terminating her employment.

A spokesperson for Tufts claimed that the university investigated the sexual complaints and found no violations of university policy. According to the university, Young's employment ended when the grant ran out in 2008. Her last employment with Tufts was reportedly as a temporary part-time lecturer in the spring of 2009.

In her suit, Young claims that her career ended after she voiced her complaint against Kounaves, and that he has allegedly made her life increasingly difficult based on the personal attraction. The lawsuit seeks $250,000 in unspecified damages.

Howard Law, PC represents employees who have been sexually harassed in Southern California and are seeking recovery. Our team of experienced Anaheim-based Labor & Employment Attorneys are committed to aggressively representing you and protecting your employment rights. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Harassment Lawsuit Filed vs. Scientist on Mars Lander Project, Arizona Daily Star, January 13, 2009

Sex Harassment Suit Hits Tufts Scientist, The Boston Globe, January 8, 2010

Related Web Resources:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC)