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Top female scientists suing Salk Institute for gender discrimination

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Posted at 8:32 PM, Jul 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-15 02:30:35-04

LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) -- Vicki Lundblad and Katherine Jones sued the Salk Institute for Biological Studies this week, alleging that for a long time their employer has made decisions based on gender-discrimination. 

In the lawsuit filed, the women claim that women are paid less than men at the science center and are often looked over for promotions. 

“Salk is a wonderful place in many ways," said Vicky Lundblad Ph. D. "There are great scientists there but the gender bias, it’s just so deep and so entrenched. And there’s just a point where I said, ‘I can’t not speak up about this.’"

Katherine Jones Ph. D., felt much the same way about the treatment of women and recognized that her work was going unappreciated. Both she and Lundblad told 10News they faced pressure to downsize their laboratories at the institute. 

“My science was on fire. They didn’t know, but like incredible! Like some of the best stuff of my career is coming out," Jones said. "Every person is absolutely golden to me, and they’re telling me in an e-mail ‘dispatch, off with his head, we need to lose bodies here, you’re costing us too much.’ So at that point, I knew I had to fight it.”

Jones went on to say that the last woman promoted to full professor was promoted in 1999. She also noted that there are only four senior female faculty members and that it hasn't changed much since she started 30 years ago. 

The institute has gained international attention for its pioneering advancements in basic science. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified compensation in addition to attorney's fees.

In a statement, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies said, in part:

"Salk is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all. Institute policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, race, age, disability and sexual orientation or any other protected classification. The Institute will vigorously defend itself through the legal system against any allegations of gender discrimination with full confidence in prevailing.

Drs. Jones and Lundblad, whose laboratories have received over $5 million in support from the Institute over the past 10 fiscal years, have been treated generously by the Institute, including relative to their male peers. Each scientist’s lucrative compensation package is consistent with well-recognized metrics that have been applied to all Salk faculty in a nondiscriminatory manner. Additionally, the Institute has always strived in partnership with faculty, and within a very competitive environment, to secure the government and foundation grants that are the cornerstone of our funding and which support the research pursued by Drs. Jones and Lundblad and other faculty members.

Female scientists at Salk have conducted acclaimed research programs since the Institute’s founding, and in the past ten years Salk has appointed an additional eight women scientists to its elite faculty. The Institute is headed by a female President, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, and the majority of the executive leadership team is female. Salk’s Women & Science program, currently in its fifth year, provides a stimulating forum for community leaders to engage with Salk scientists and has raised over $450,000 to support the advancement of women in science. Salk denies that Dr. Jones or Dr. Lundblad have suffered any harm or adverse employment action based on their gender."