Weber v. Fermilab - An Update

I've mentioned Kay Weber and her lawsuit against Fermilab on this blog before. Sherry Towers forwarded an email to me that gives an update on Kay's situation:

Those of you getting the first wave of this email probably know Kay Weber personally, but may not know the story that has been a main focus of her life for the past 4 years. Here is her story:

Kay worked at Fermilab (a Department of Energy Laboratory) for more than 18 years. She has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, is a Licensed Professional Engineer, has Master's Degrees in Computer Science and Psychology. When Kay was hired she was the first and only female engineer in her division. After a few years she was promoted to supervisor of the group responsible for the updating and daily operation of the world's most powerful particle accelerator. She supervised a group of about 25 male technicians and engineers. A few years later she started to experience sexual harassment. She found jock straps in her office, condoms in her mailbox, derogatory notes in her mailbox and written on public bulletin boards. As a result she was removed from her position and placed in other departments for several years (yes, she was punished). Eventually she was returned to her original department and forced to report to a technician - one who she had previously supervised. She was forced to undergo discriminatory treatment on a regular basis and she often complained. Finally she filed a grievance and her management immediately put into place a plan to fire her, which they did in 2004.

Kay filed a lawsuit in Federal Court for harassment, discrimination and retaliation. When such a suit is filed it is up to the person filing the suit to pursue it. This means a huge expense in time and money, but it is the only way to hold the offenders accountable. Fermilab is funded by the Department of Energy - your tax dollars. Fermilab spares no expense in using your money. Their plan is to not only ruin the lives of employees that complain of illegal activity, but to also bankrupt them in the process. At this point, Kay's case is up for appeal and if the appeal is granted then a trial date would be set. Currently Kay has used most of her retirement money (and the rest will surely be spent on the remaining legal bills), she cannot afford health insurance, drives a 13 year old car with 220,000 miles. Most months she struggles to make her mortgage payment and sometimes comes up short. She had a large balance still due her lawyers (who are giving her a reduced rate) but needs to make a substantial payment to move forward with her appeal, the filing deadline is at the end of April. If there is a trial it would be huge expense as well. The closer the case the get to trial, the more likely Fermilab would be willing to settle.

If you don't know a woman who has experienced some kind of rights violation at work, you are lucky. However if you have daughters, sisters, granddaughters, odds are they will know someone or had such an experience themselves. We have to stand together to help stop this kind of treatment. Check out the website and blog listed below to hear about other cases.

There has been a paypal account set up to help fund Kay and her case. There is also a website to track the progress of the case as well as provide information on the case as well as other cases against Fermilab and other DOE labs. Kay also has a blog about her case and other experiences. Links to both are at the end of this message. Please check both for more information.

While you alone may not make a big difference, together we can. How many of you buy a coffee drink every day, eat out for lunch, spend a few dollars here and there. Can you give this up for a week and donate that money?

Please use your network to see how big a chain of women we can create. Please send this message to at least 10 other women. Time is of the essence! Here is how you can help:

1) Send this email to all the women you know (men too). The more people this is sent to, the greater the support. If you belong to a professional organization or hobby group, feel free to share with them. If you have a website or blog, you can post this information there and/or link to the blog and/or website.

2) You can make a donation by going to Click on 'send money' use the address webervsfermi AT hotmail DOT com as the account to send money to. When using paypal your financial information is not revealed.

3) Donate an item to the online auction. If you have a craft you enjoy, you can donate an item for auction. You can purchase a gift card to be donated. If you have a service, you can donate your service for auction. Send email to webervsfermi AT hotmail DOT com to offer an item for auction. The auction will be held on the website, the auction date to be announced later.

4) You can purchase an item on the online auction. Save the links to the blog and website and check for updated information or send an email to webervsfermi AT hotmail DOT com for an update.

Be sure to check out the website
And the blog

Both are under construction, so check back often..


Note: the website does not appear to be fully constructed at the time of this posting.

More like this

Check out Kay's blog (the last link in Zuska's blog entry above). Kay is quite clearly a newly inducted Princess of the Planet Zorn who has found her public voice and is telling it like it is.

I couldn't find Zuska's description of this wonderful planet via a Google search. Perhaps Zuska can provide the link.

Kay, you go girl...

"Fermilab is funded by the Department of Energy - your tax dollars. Fermilab spares no expense in using your money. Their plan is to not only ruin the lives of employees that complain of illegal activity, but to also bankrupt them in the process. "

I find this a bit extreme. I do research there, and I've attended a few of the executive board meetings. I must have missed that point in our five year plan. I thought we were trying to do basic science.

Personally, I have not felt any gender bias and can think of women in leadership positions in places throughout the lab. I'm sorry for her experiences, and I hope the appropriate action is taken. However, I don't think the appropriate response is to criticize the mission of the lab, or imply that the women (and men) who work here are wasting your tax dollars.

Then why has Fermilab denied Absinthe's repeated FOIA requests for just how many dollars they have spent defending these cases?

Hi Sarah,

I am glad that you have never felt discriminated against at the lab (honestly...I am always happy to hear the stories of female physicists who had no problems). And you are correct that there are some women in senior positions at the lab. That doesn't mean that there isn't endemic discrimination on site though, or even that those senior women are having an easy time of it. They didn't get to those senior positions by complaining about possible discrimination they might have suffered on their way to the top.

I spent five years working at Dzero, and using their databases of internal papers produced, and conference talks allocated, I determined that female postdocs were allocated one third the number of conference presentations (per paper produced) compared to their male peers. Conference presentations are obviously an important career advancement perk for young scientists because it gives them much needed positive exposure to future employers. I complained about this to the Fermilab Equity office and got no response. I have since taken the complaint to the Department of Energy Office of Civil Rights, since Fermilab has a responsibility to comply with Title IX, which forbids the kind of endemic discrimination I uncovered.

You mentioned that you attended "a few" of the Fermilab Users' Executve Board meetings. I served two years on the Fermilab UEC, and the meetings are closed. And if you are a member of the board you are supposed to attend each monthly meeting, so I don't understand how you attended "a few".

Fermilab's response towards women who file complaints with the EEOC and/or file discrimination lawsuits *is* extreme. They literally throw an army of lawyers into fighting each case. In the three cases I know of, very simple things could have been done to change things when the women originally complained that would have avoided a lawsuit. But the lab simply refuses to change the status quo.

A couple of years ago I came across a document produced by the Fermilab Equity office that obviously had accidentally been left on a portion of Fermilab's web server that the Google-bot was able to access (it was clear the document was never meant for public release, but rather was a report to the Department of Energy regarding the number of EEO complaints that had been filed against the lab). The document showed that Fermilab had a number of EEO complaints per EEO-1 employees (ie; women, minorities, people with disabilities, etc) that was way above the average for the private sector.

Funding basic research is important, but when literally millions of our tax dollars are being spent to fight well founded complaints of discrimination (instead of making simple changes to the way the lab does things that would make the environment there better for everyone), people need to take a stand and say enough is enough.