Alleging discrimination, physics professor sues Temple

Marjatta Lyyra filed a lawsuit against the university in federal court on Dec. 30, 2019.

Marjatta Lyyra, Professor of Physics at Temple University, is suing Temple for alleged discrimination within the department. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

A tenured physics professor is suing Temple for allegedly allowing her to suffer repeated incidents of gender-based and disability discrimination. 

Marjatta Lyyra, who’s taught in the physics department since 1991, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Dec. 30, 2019.

Neither Lyyra nor her lawyer could be reached for comment.

Lyyra specializes in atomic, molecular and optical physics, according to her website. She has received numerous accolades in her field, including being recognized as a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2005.

In the lawsuit, Lyyra alleges that Zameer Hasan, a professor of physics who arrived at Temple shortly after her, repeatedly “obstructed” and “sabotaged” her research until the university removed him from her lab in 1997.

Hasan was terminated in 2018, according to the lawsuit. He could not be reached for comment.

Hasan allegedly physically intimidated Lyyra, trapping her in her office and threatening to bring a gun to campus, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit also alleges that James Napolitano, chair of the physics department, marginalized Lyyra’s role in departmental committees and blocked efforts by the College of Science and Technology to discipline Hasan as he continued to allegedly harass her until his termination. 

Napolitano declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Temple does not comment on pending litigation, wrote Ray Betzner, a spokesperson for the university, in an email to The Temple News. 

The lawsuit alleges that in 2018, Lyyra had notified the College of Science and Technology of Napolitano’s behavior, but the college had referred her complaints, without her consent, to Temple’s Human Resources Office, prompting an investigation. 

The HRO investigation allegedly found that Napolitano did not violate Temple’s Equal Employment Opportunity guidelines, according to the lawsuit. 

HRO allegedly attempted to force Lyyra, who has epilepsy, to take Family And Medical Act leave after Lyyra asked not to take part in a meeting with the office due to fear of stress causing a seizure.

HRO could not be reached for comment.

Lyyra’s lawyers have asked for a trial by jury, according to the case’s docket sheet. Temple acknowledged receipt of the lawsuit on Jan. 17.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled James Napolitano’s name.

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