An Indian-American professor is sued for gender discrimination. She’s blind

WASHINGTON: A Columbia University alumnus has accused her Indian-American professor of assigning her demeaning “female” tasks like applying her makeup and making restaurant reservations in a lawsuit alleging gender-based discrimination.
Elizabeth Blackwell began working as a “research associate” for Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia Business School professor, following a five-month long interview process after earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2017. Soon after, Iyengar, 52, “insisted” Blackwell perform “personal and supportive administrative and secretarial tasks,” including, Blackwell says, “applying Iyengar’s makeup and booking restaurants for her romantic dates.”
In contrast to the treatment Blackwell received, her male counterpart “encountered none of the obstacles that Ms. Blackwell was forced to overcome,” the suit, first reported in the Washington Square News, alleges. Blackwell also claims Iyengar assigned many of her research duties to a male co-worker — which were outside his program coordinator job description — because “she was a woman.”
Iyengar is blind. She is a scholar on the subject of choice, and author of the book The Art of Choosing, and has delivered a popular TED talk She is frequently cited in the media on the subject of choice.
Apparently, the two principals in the dispute made poor choices. According to the WSN account, Iyengar reportedly told Blackwell that she was “lucky” to have been hired since was a woman when Blackwell confronted her about the lack of research tasks. She was also told that she “would have been out on her ass a long time ago” if she was a man.
Shortly after, Iyengar, says WSN, complained to Columbia that she was being harassed by Blackwell, and although she had promoted her hiree “at every step,” there was a “no fit” between their interests.
“If there was discrimination in this office, it was, it is, the discrimination that I felt as a blind professor who was being perpetually bullied by my employee and does not accommodate the very needs of this position,” WSN quoted Iyengar as saying.
The Columbia University professor was diagnosed with a rare form of retinitis pigmentosa — an inherited disease of retinal degeneration — when she was a child. Having lost her father to a heart attack when she was thirteen, she became completely blind by the time she was sixteen. Her sister nine years younger to her is also blind.
In one interview, she recalled how her mother took her to a school for the blind “but she didn’t like the look of it so she decided I wasn’t blind,” and decided to homeschool the two girls. She recounts her mother saying “I don’t want to hear about men or boys, you’ve got to stand on your own two feet,” as she put the girls through a home school regimen. She eventually graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School and a B.A. in Psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences before earning her PhD in Social Psychology from Stanford University.
A Sikhni who was married to an Iyengar before their divorce, she taught at MIT‘s Sloan School of Management in the late 1990s before moving to Columbia Business School, where she became a full professor in July 2007. Her book The Art of Choosing (2010), which explores the mysteries of choice in everyday life, was shortlisted for the 2010 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.

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