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Email Reveals Former Salk President’s Efforts To Discourage Lawsuit

A sign at the Salk Institute in La Jolla is shown in this undated photo.

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: A sign at the Salk Institute in La Jolla is shown in this undated photo.

The former president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla discouraged one of her professors from suing for gender discrimination, saying in a private email that legal action could damage the company's reputation, it was reported Monday.

"Families have disagreements. But they don't litigate their disagreements," Elizabeth Blackburn said in the June 30, 2017, email sent to biochemist Beverly Emerson, adding that a lawsuit would be "ill-advised," The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Emerson, 66, decided to join colleagues Katherine Jones and Vicki Lundblad in suing Salk for alleged gender discrimination, according to court documents.

All three women said that Salk had systematically discriminated against them on salary, benefits, promotions and access to private donations.

RELATED: Salk Institute Settles 2 Gender Bias Suits

Salk announced out-of-court settlements with Jones, 63, and Lundblad, 65, on Aug. 7.

Salk denies that it discriminated against the women and it is asking a San Diego Superior Court judge to remove Blackburn's email to Emerson from the record.

That request is scheduled to be considered on Friday.

The institute claims the email is privileged because it is part of mediation between Emerson and Salk.

"It is disappointing that (Emerson's) counsel has chosen to disclose what we maintain is a privileged communication, over our objections and before the matter could be decided by the Court, particularly because Dr. Blackburn's message was a sincere effort to reach out to Dr. Emerson and avoid litigation," said Steve Strauss, an attorney representing the institute, in a statement to the Union-Tribune.

Emerson's lawsuit is scheduled for trial on Dec. 7.

Blackburn, 69, left the institute earlier this year after announcing her retirement in December 2017.

Emerson left the institute at the end of December after her contract was not renewed. She technically remains at Salk as an emerita faculty member.

In April, Salk scientist Inder Verma, 70, was suspended after an article in the journal Science detailed allegations from eight women against him.

Verma, a noted geneticist and cancer researcher, denied the charges, but resigned from the institute in June after an investigation.

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