By Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com
ANOTHER Filipino-American doctor is creating quite a stir in Georgia.
Dr. Emelita Breyer, a Chemistry professor, is suing her former employer Georgia State University (GSU) and the State’s Board of Regents for alleged discriminatory hiring practices.
After being denied tenure at GSU in 1995, Breyer investigated her tenure application and uncovered what she says is a history of anti-Asian discrimination in the University.
Breyer worked as an assistant professor at GSU for six years. She alleged that senior faculty members in 2005 denied her tenure because of her Filipino-Chinese heritage.
“It’s the bamboo ceiling,” said Breyer in a phone interview with the Asian Journal from her home in Atlanta. “They don’t want to hire Asians to top positions.”
In e-mail to the Asian Journal, Interim associate Vice Chancellor for Media and Publications John Millsaps said the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia did not comment on pending litigation. Millsaps did not return a phone call about the case.
Breyer said her pending lawsuit against the school is about “making a difference.”
“I’m trying to eliminate discrimination and the first step is to promote awareness to our fellow Asian Americans,” she said. “I don’t want our next generation to experience what I experienced.”
Breyer alleged that she was discriminated against during her tenure review in 2005.
She said a senior faculty member blatantly stated there were “too many Chinese” in the faculty as the reason why he didn’t vote to hire a new Asian faculty candidate in the chemistry department. There are currently five Asian professors, according to the GSU chemistry faculty website.
“I was denied three times [in 2005] – once by senior faculty, once by the [department] Dean, and then the Provost,” she said. “I started wondering about the question [why I was denied] so I addressed the issue just to get the facts. I wanted to know why I was not being promoted.”
This led Breyer to a fact-finding mission and requested an open record investigation. She was denied tenure despite having no complaints against her and other colleagues describing her work as “groundbreaking” in the field of chemistry.
Breyer’s investigation revealed that Asian faculty members at GSU had lower salaries than their American counterparts.
“Since all [Georgia State] employee records are open to the public, I found out that upon getting hired in 1999, I was the lowest paid faculty member in the department,” she said. “I compared my salary to that of a Caucasian male colleague who started at the same time, and he was getting paid more than I was.”
She believes that her nine years of experience should have merited equal pay. She said that the lowest salary for a professor at GSU is roughly $45,000 a year. She, however, was being paid $43,000.
“I worked hard and sacrificed to be where I am,” she said.
Born in Manila, Philippines, she graduated from the University of Santo Tomas College of Sciences. After working briefly for a corporation in the Philippines, she decided to pursue an academic career earning her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of New Orleans. She accepted a Clinical Chemistry Fellowship at the University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill. She taught at Emory University for seven years before applying for a tenure track at GSU.
“I know that if I worked at a corporation I would have been paid double to triple the amount of salary I was receiving at the school,” she said. “But I learned early on that academia is the place for me. Researching and teaching is where I belong.”
Breyer said people don’t understand the business mentality when it comes to a university.
“A lot of people don’t understand the university system,” she said. “Getting a tenure from a university is the goal of all university teachers and professors. It basically insures me a job. Assistant Professors and Lecturers are on an annual contract basis.”
Breyer believes that she earned that tenure position working up the academic ladder.
“I started as a Ph.D. student with a salary of $7,000 a year. In my post-doctorate job I was working seven days a week for $24,000 before moving on as an Assistant Professor. The university expects us to work 70 to 80 hours a week, seven days a week,” she said. “This is a business. Our work is based on grants and have students produce papers.”
Other than salary, she alleged that during her six years of teaching at GSU she was consistently given unfair treatment to an equivalent and junior faculty in terms of teaching preference, service and students.
But what upset Breyer most was that one of her colleagues openly lobbied against and supplied negative information about her to those in charge of her tenure application.
“I used to be just one the millions of Asians going through life happily never believing that I would be discriminated against that it [discrimination] doesn’t affect me, that I’m not part of the discrimination crowd.”
“Many of us don’t realize that we are being discriminated against,” she said. “Subtle discrimination is the worst kind. It’s not until you start looking and becoming aware of the situation that you realize what is happening.”
Breyer ask the community to rally behind her for this cause.
“The fight is hard,” she said.
A lawyer told Breyer that she has maybe a 15 percent chance of winning a Title VII case against her former employer.
She admitted though, that she is at a serious disadvantage fighting the battle in the South, in Georgia.
There is hope, though.
“Where did Dr. Martin Luther King fight against discrimination?” Breyer asked. “Right here, in Atlanta. He fought it in the most difficult place and he made an impact.”
“I want people to realize that we are fighting for the same cause that if we win here in Atlanta, you will win in California and New York and other places in the US,” she added. (www.asianjournal.com)
For more information about Dr. Emelita Breyer’s case go to http://www.emelita-breyer.com