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Lawsuits Against Art Institute of Pittsburgh Dismissed

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by Jamal Eric Watson

Two former admissions officers’ lawsuits accusing the Art Institute of Pittsburgh of illegal employment discrimination were dismissed after U.S. District Court judges in Pittsburgh ordered enforcement of an alternative dispute resolution policy that the school rolled out, two months after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission placed the school under investigation pursuant to the admissions officers’ federal complaints filed in 2012.

LaMont Jones alleged that the Art Institute of Pittsburgh discriminated against Blacks in awarding scholarships.

LaMont Jones alleged that the Art Institute of Pittsburgh discriminated against Blacks in awarding scholarships.

Following the EEOC investigation that began in August 2012, Michael Scott and LaMont Jones alleged in their separate but simultaneous lawsuits filed in April of last year that the for-profit school’s financially beleaguered parent company—Education Management Corporation—had engaged in disparate treatment in terminating Blacks and workers over the age of 40. Jones also alleged that the school discriminated against Blacks in awarding scholarships.

“The crux of Plaintiff’s argument is that the ADR Policy itself is retaliatory in violation of Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), as it was implemented during the beginning of the EEOC investigation for his initial discrimination complaint, which then caused him to file a subsequent retaliation complaint with the EEOC on October 4, 2012,” wrote Judge Nora Barry Fischer in her four-page order in LaMont Jones v. Education Management Corporation, which she issued on Thursday, April 23, after nine months of motions and oral arguments before her, including a motion for partial summary judgment filed by Jones the previous week.

In the Scott v. Education Management Corporation case parallel to the Jones case, Fischer continued: “Judge David S. Cercone rejected said argument, noting that the plaintiff’s claims under the (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) and Title VII claims, as well as his wrongful termination under Pennsylvania common law, fall within the substantive scope of the ADR Policy.”

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Fischer concluded as Cercone had that “Plaintiff’s claims shall be resolved in accordance with Education Management Corporation’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy and Procedures (‘ADR Policy’). This action is dismissed, with prejudice. The Court shall mark this case closed.”

Amos Jones, the Washington-based civil rights litigator and law professor who represents the two plaintiffs, said that the decision was worrisome but not unexpected.

“Are we disappointed that two George Bush judges invalidated the anti-retaliation statute by adopting the dicta of a discredited case decided last year and invalidating appellate cases that bound them to decide in our favor, after we raised this authority in twelve filings over the last year? Of course,” he said. “But are we confident that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will reaffirm its recent precedents and those of the U.S. Supreme Court by reversing the legal errors out of Pittsburgh? Absolutely.”

Plaintiff LaMont Jones, an ordained Baptist minister who is writing a book about his experiences working in the for-profit college sector, was critical of the court’s ruling in an interview with Diverse.

“It had become clear last year that EDMC was searching for a way to invalidate the anti-retaliation provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” he said, “and the western Pennsylvania culture provided the environment to undo this key component of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. As far as I’m concerned, Pittsburgh is the civil equivalent of Ferguson, Mo., and I am hoping the U.S. Department of Justice will get involved.”

The two admissions officers were fired several months after they had objected to the ADR policy by filing secondary EEOC complaints—the day after EDMC announced its new retroactive-to-July-1 policy in October 2012. In those second filings, they cited the ADR policy as illegal retaliation and therefore unenforceable. After EDMC fired them, they amended their complaints to add this conduct to their cases as well.

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Under the judge’s orders, these disputes would be resolved by an arbitrator selected by EDMC.

“These Pittsburgh decisions are extreme,” Amos Jones said. “Even the most hostile jurisprudence on employment discrimination has exercised more restraint in invalidating acts of Congress than what we have just seen there. Gone, today, are the Fourteenth Amendment and common-law contracting principles long on the books in Pennsylvania.”

Katherine Ryan of Reed Smith LLP, the attorney for EDMC, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Amos Jones has experience in overturning lower-court decisions. Last year, he won a unanimous, 7-0 reversal from the all-White Kentucky Supreme Court after a four-year battle to reinstate the dismissed case of Dr. Jimmy Kirby, a tenured professor fired from Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky without cause.

“The protest demonstrations in front of EDMC’s property in Pittsburgh will resume,” LaMont Jones promised, referring to previous picketing by a band of protestors that disrupted an admitted-students day in 2013. “Black people need to stay away from that corrupt organization at all cost.”

Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at jwatson1@diverseeducation.com. You can follow him on twitter @jamalericwatson

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