Diverse Docket: University of Texas Law School Prevails

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by Eric Freedman

 

Chrystie Nguyen

The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Chrystie Nguyen failed to provide sufficient evidence that her job transfer and the later non-renewal of her contract resulted from racial bias.

A Vietnamese-American former executive assistant to the law school dean at the University of Texas has lost her appeal in a suit alleging racial discrimination.

Chrystie Nguyen failed to provide sufficient evidence that her job transfer and the later nonrenewal of her contract resulted from racial bias, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled. The decision upholds a lower-court ruling in favor of the law school.

According to the decision, Nguyen was hired as then-Dean Larry Sager’s executive assistant in 2006 and was transferred in 2008 to the law school’s Continuing Legal Education Department. There, she was designated special projects coordinator, a position created for her, and she was allowed to telecommute two days a week.

However, her new superiors “quickly began expressing dissatisfaction with Nguyen’s work performance,” including lack of progress on her projects, the decision said. They assigned her different duties and revoked her telecommuting projects.

Then in 2010, the law school didn’t renew her appointment and discontinued the special projects coordinator position.

In a unanimous opinion, the three-judge appeals panel said Nguyen failed to demonstrate that either she was treated less favorably than “similarly situated employees who were not members of her protected class” or that she was discharged based on race.

The court found no proof of racial animus in the fact that an assistant dean once commented on her “shedragon” email address or had advised her to follow “American/Texas business culture.”

The assistant dean “did not indicate that he was applying a standard of acceptable workplace behavior to Nguyen or to Asians generally different from the standard applied to all Continuing Legal Education employees,” the court said.

In addition, it said those comments were made a year and a half before her nonrenewal and, in any case, were “stray remarks” that are “too vague and too indirect to demonstrate racial animus.”

 

Retaliation Suit Dismissed

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle has dismissed a discrimination and retaliation suit by five African-American and one American Indian former employees at Robeson Community College in Lumberton, N.C.

All the plaintiffs had held Workforce Investment Act-related jobs, such as GED coordinator, case manager and basic skills instructor at the college.

All were notified in 2012 that their contracts wouldn’t be renewed because of budgetary constraints. The college said they were ineligible for rehire despite a policy giving preference for one year to employees displaced by a financially motivated reduction in force.

Their lawsuit claimed violations of Title VII based on disparate and discriminatory treatment, age discrimination, retaliation and wrongful discharge and asked for compensatory and punitive damages.

Boyle threw out all the claims.

For example, he said the plaintiffs failed to offer sufficient evidence that they had performed their jobs satisfactorily and failed to explain how statistics on the number of terminated minority employees proved a pattern of discriminatory practices.

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