Sarmiento earned a biological anthropology PhD in 1985, and from then until at least 2008 he worked as a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. His main field of study is the skeletons of hominoids, both extinct  and living species. . From 2002 to 2004 he was a Fulbright scholar teaching physiology at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique.
Presently[specify] he heads the Human Evolution Foundation whose main goal is to understand humanity's place in nature.
Sarmiento is one of the few mainstream experts to give serious attention to cryptozoology, particularly reports of Bigfoot. Sarmiento does not suggest that the existence of Bigfoot has been established, but that its existence is possible and that claims and evidence deserve careful scrutiny. He has stated: "If the animal in the P&G film [Bigfoot] is real, this animal is exceedingly human-like ... It would be our closest relative on earth.” He has appeared on several episodes of the History Channel series Monster Quest discussing Bigfoot and other "cryptids."
Sarmiento filed a lawsuit against Queens College claiming that the college's refusal to grant him interviews in 1999 and 2000 for associate professor employment was motivated by racial discrimination, and thus a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 2005, a U.S. District Court ruled against Sarmiento. The court noted that while Sarmiento was qualified for the job, Queens College demonstrated that other candidates were more qualified, and race was not a factor in their decisions. For example, among the job requirements was an emphasis on human anatomy and anthropology, while Sarmiento's emphasis had been on non-human primates. The court also ruled that Sarmiento submitted inadequate syllabi, and and other candidates had superior teaching experience. Later in 2005, an appeals court upheld the district court decision.
A similar lawsuit against Montclair State University, again alleging racial discrimination as a factor in a 2001 hiring procedure, was also unsuccessful for Sarmiento. The court ruled that Montclair established that another applicant was better qualified for the position due to her specialty in medical anthropology, and that race was not a factor in Montclair's hiring decision. While the candidate Montclair ultimately hired did not have her PhD at the time of interviews, she was scheduled to earn her doctorate by the time employment would have begun, in line with Montclair hiring procedure.
According to some sources,[specify] Sarmiento continues to object to the courts' findings and is committed to bringing to light what he believes is the racial discrimination that exists in the hiring processes at public universities and other public institutions.
- Sarmiento, Esteban. Should We Consider the Translocation of Gorilla Populations? Gorilla Journal 13, December 1996
- Sarmiento, Esteban E. (2010). "Comment on the Paleobiology and Classification of Ardipithecus ramidus". Science 328: 1105b. doi:10.1126/science.11841480.
- C. J. Sawyer, Viktor Deak, Esteban Sarmiento, and Richard Milner. The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-two Species of Extinct Humans. Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-10047-1
- Sarmiento E, Butynski T (1996) Present problems in gorilla taxonomy. Gorilla Journal, June, 5–7.
- Sarmiento EE, Butynski TM, Kalina J (1996) Gorillas of Bwindiimpenetrable forest and the Virunga volcanoes: taxonomic implications of morphological and ecological differences.American Journal of Primatology, 40, 1–21.
- Ortega, Javier. 2009. "Esteban Sarmiento: Thoughts on Bigfoot". Retrieved 13 Feb 2010.
- Sarmiento v. Queens College, 386 F.Supp.2d 93 (2005)
- ESTEBAN SARMIENTO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, v. QUEENS COLLEGE CUNY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS,, (2nd Cir. 2005)
- Sarmiento v Montclair State University, On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. Civil Action No. 04-cv-04176)
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