UK settles religious-discrimination suit for $125,000

Astronomer gets $125,000 after claiming discrimination over views on evolution

ctruman@herald-leader.comJanuary 19, 2011 

C. Martin Gaskell was photographed in the student observatory at the University of Nebraska, where he worked before applying for a post at UK. He is now a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin.

The University of Kentucky will pay $125,000 to an astronomy professor who sued the school for religious discrimination.

A motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Lexington said that both UK and C. Martin Gaskell, a research fellow at the University of Texas-Austin, now want the lawsuit thrown out. It had been scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 8.

The lawsuit had provided fodder for Internet news and blog sites discussing religious faith versus academic reasoning.

Gaskell claimed that he was passed over for a job as director of UK's MacAdam Student Observatory three years ago because of his religion and statements that were perceived to be critical of evolution. He was being represented in the case by attorneys from the American Center for Law and Justice.

Gaskell was a top candidate for the job, according to court filings, but some UK professors called him "something close to a creationist" and "potentially evangelical" in department e-mail messages.

UK instead hired Tim Knauer, a former student and employee in the UK Department of Physics and Astronomy; UK's July 2010 salary database listed Knauer's salary as $58,642.

Gaskell declined to comment Tuesday, but his attorney, Francis Manion, said Gaskell would receive the full $125,000.

"Everything we do is pro bono," Manion said. "That's the reason we exist, to represent people in cases like this."

Barbara Jones, UK's in-house attorney, said in a statement that UK "is pleased that a quick settlement has been reached in this case. The successful resolution precludes what would have been a lengthy trial that, ultimately, would not have served anyone's best interest. ... The university believes its hiring processes were and are fundamentally sound and were followed in this case."

Manion said that although UK did not admit wrongdoing, "people will draw their own conclusions, obviously. Dr. Gaskell's financial losses are roughly what we settled for. ... Once that number is offered, it's difficult to justify proceeding to a trial.

"We think our point was made, definitely. And it's a point that's broader than UK."

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