Gabrielle Turgeon, a teacher of French who lost her job at Howard University in 1979, was awarded $60,000 yesterday by a U.S. District Court jury in a suit charging the school with race discrimination and breach of contract.

Turgeon, a former assistant professor who is white, said she testified during her five-day trial that the predominantly black university had replaced her with black faculty members with lesser qualifications.

Her attorney, John M. Clifford said he had presented evidence from university employment records that since 1976 Howard has hired 17 blacks and only three whites to fill positions in its department of Romance languages, even though blacks comprise less than 10 percent of the persons nationally who hold master's degrees in this field.

The jury of five blacks and one white reached its verdict in about two hours.

Alan Hermesch, a spokesman for Howard, declined to comment on the decision.

Yesterday's decision is the fourth jury verdict against the university in the past two years in cases brought by faculty members and other employes.

The verdicts, two of which are under appeal, now total $671,000. Since 1981, the university has reached out-of-court settlements with eight other employes, totaling more than $250,000.

The range of complaints against Howard has been wide, including breach of contract and discrimination in several forms: against whites, Africans, women and men.

Turgeon had claimed breach of contract and race discrimination. In January, U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr., entered a judgment in her favor on the breach of contract charge because she had been dismissed without review by a faculty committee.

The jury was asked to decide the discrimination issue and the amount of any damages.

University officials strongly denied any discrimination

But Clifford said he presented evidence that two other whites had been dismissed from the Romance language department in 1979 without a faculty committee review, and that another white was dismissed from the department a year earlier even though a faculty committee had recommended he be reappointed.

The jury awarded Turgeon $25,300 on the discrimination charge, which was filed under the D.C. Human Rights Act, and $34,700 for breach of contract.

Turgeon also sought damages and reinstatement under the U.S. civil rights law. Judge Robinson indicated he will rule later on this, along with her request for legal expenses.

Yesterday Turgeon, who was raised in France and lives in Fairfax, said that she was "impressed with the American due process." She added: "I was fearful. It's been a long time. It's been expensive. But now it's beautiful."

Even though she has a doctorate in French language and literature, Turgeon said, she has been unable to find a university teaching post since leaving Howard. This year she is teaching French at Lee High School in Springfield.