Harvard Librarian Cites Racial, Pretty Face Bias

Accusation Comes Along With a Slew of Complaints About the School’s Professional Practices

Desiree Goodwin, 40-year-old Harvard University library assistant believes she’s more than just a pretty face. But due to alleged mistreatments by her supervisors, whom she said refused to look beyond her exterior, Goodwin filed a racial and gender discrimination lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court of Boston, Massachusetts against the school in 2003.

The trial began earlier this spring with a jury panel of seven men and one woman. Goodwin, who is African American, has been working at the Harvard Frances Loeb Library as an assistant for nine years in circulation and reference. Despite her claims that she’s been rejected 16 times for promotions in favor of less qualified white men and women, she’s still employed at the library. Goodwin maintained that she attended Cornell University and Simmons College to earn two master’s degrees: one in library science and English literature.

According to Goodwin’s complaint, she endured emotional distress and lost over $100,000 in wages because of the setback. Goodwin also claims that her White female supervisor told her that she would never be promoted because she’s just a pretty girl who wears sexy outfits, tight-fitting clothing, and low-cut blouses.

“When my boss commented that I was ‘too sexy,’ I was shocked,” Goodwin said in the November 2003 issue of Jet Magazine. “It was said in the context of saying that I had no future at Harvard and that other librarians would not hire me and didn’t respect me.”

Goodwin said after she transformed her appearance by wearing business-like attire, she was still overlooked for promotions. Goodwin’s discrimination accusations were dismissed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) citing that no form of bias was found.

Geoffrey Carens, a union representative with the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers who represented Goodwin, told BCV.com that during his 16-year tenure at Harvard, he’s seen every conceivable kind of discrimination. Carens said though management denies violating both the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and racial/gender bias laws, there are many Harvard employees who have filed discrimination complaints.

“Right now I’m representing an African-American who suffers from sickle-cell disease. She has been threatened with termination in writing for being as little as five minutes late even though other co-workers are late all the time. Management has created a hostile work environment for her,” Carens said.

In another case Carens explains how an employee’s short-term disability leave was extended by her doctors, but Harvard decided to wrongfully terminate her benefits.

“I could go on all day about the discrimination I’ve witnessed here,” Carens said.

Joe Wrinn, a Harvard spokesman, refused to comment on the pending trial, according to recent reports. Prior to the trial Wrinn publicly stated that Goodwin’s case is baseless. Wrinn said the fact that EEOC and MCAD dismissed it indicates how the trial will ultimately be resolved.