Renowned Black Law Professor Files Complaint Against Campbell University for Discrimination - Higher Education
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Renowned Black Law Professor Files Complaint Against Campbell University for Discrimination

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by Jamal Eric Watson

A Black law professor who gained national exposure for having predicted Donald J. Trump’s election victory in an eight-month series of 2016 television appearances and Harvard Law Record articles, has filed federal civil rights charges against Campbell University.

Amos Jones

In documents obtained by Diverse, associate professor of law Amos Jones alleges a pattern of discrimination and retaliation in hiring and promotion amid a Whites-dominated tenure pattern at the 40-year-old, Raleigh, North Carolina, school historically related to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

“I was punished because, on February 20, I approached Dean [J. Rich] Leonard and his Associate Dean Timothy Zinnecker with a respectful written request that they enter my classrooms and restore order among the students per our School’s code of conduct and the ethics of our profession — that is, to condemn the racial discrimination that several students had expressly written into my Fall 2016 evaluations by derogating me for being Black and being involved with a Black church,” Jones alleged in a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filing.

“The deans’ response came the next day: On Tuesday February 21, 2017, Dean J. Rich Leonard issued a ‘Contract Letter’ to me, e-mailed to me and also mailed to my home, announcing that he was, for the second year in a row, unilaterally aborting my application for tenure, only now my last day on faculty here would be at the end of this semester — with no terminal year of employment in 2017-18.”

The complaint refers to an Exhibit 4, which it says was “issued in apparent violation of the American Bar Association Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools 2016-17 provision that ‘[t]eachers on continuous appointment who are dismissed for reasons not involving moral turpitude should receive their salaries for at least a year from the date of notification of dismissal whether or not they are continued in their duties at the institution.’ ”

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Leonard, a former U.S. bankruptcy judge who became dean of the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University in 2013, declined comment, writing in an email that “it is the policy of the University to make no statements on matters involving litigation or personnel.”

In the retaliation complaint, Jones also faults a three-professor tenure panel and faculty mentor — all White — as abandoning their contractual duties to review and meet with him by February 1, a meeting he said has not yet occurred.

Jones said he was disheartened when reconciliation efforts engaged last month by his attorney, Dr. Barbara Young of Louisville, Kentucky, hit an impasse.

The 39-year-old attorney, who hails from a family that includes some of the nation’s most prominent Black Baptist pastors, was critical of university President J. Bradley Creed, who he said could have intervened over the past two months. Only the fifth president in the 130-year history of Campbell University, Creed arrived in 2015 from the provost post at Baptist-affiliated Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He is formerly a Southern Baptist pastor and had Jones — an ordained Baptist deacon — read the Scripture at his investiture ceremony last year.

“But,” Jones said, “We’re from the Progressive National Baptist Convention,” referring to the socially engaged 2.5-million member Protestant denomination of Black Baptists co-organized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1961. “And when Dr. King called Sunday at 11 a.m. the most segregated hour in America, he could have just as easily referred to some law faculty meetings 50 years later.”

According to his profile on the school’s website, Jones joined the Campbell Law faculty in 2011 after a year as a visiting assistant professor of constitutional law at North Carolina Central University Law School, a historically Black institution in Durham.

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A 2006 graduate of Harvard Law School, Jones had spent three years practicing in international trade and commercial litigation with Bryan Cave LLP before becoming a professor. He is a former Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar in Australia and spent fall 2015 as an invited Academic Visitor to the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford in England, where he studied ecclesiastical courts following a landmark 7-0 Kentucky Supreme Court reversal victory he won in 2014 for a tenured Black professor, Dr. Jimmy Kirby.

Kirby’s tenured employment had been terminated by Lexington Theological Seminary, purportedly over financial exigencies, but he sued in 2009.

Admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia, Jones is listed by an attorney-rating organization as a 2017 Super Lawyer, ranked in the top 2.7 percent of Washington lawyers under the age of 40 for his victories in employment-discrimination and other types of cases.

“No tenure-track white professor in the history of the law school has ever faced non-renewal after only six years of service and after the Tenure Panel’s midstream, unilateral suspension/termination of its contractual duties,” Jones complained. “[The Contract Letter] leaves almost no time for me …  to find suitable replacement employment and flies in the face of the Dean’s own June 6, 2016, writing to a third party outside the University that I am a ‘rock star’ who ‘will be tenured.’ The Contract Letter alleges no performance problems on my part whatsoever; none has ever been noted in the 5.5-year history of my employment at Campbell University, other than as to the issue arising from the racist evaluations on Jan. 2, 2017.”

Faculty lacks Blacks

Other than Jones, there appear to be no Black, active full-time professors on faculty at Campbell Law this year. The school’s website is replete with praise of Jones and his pro bono court victories over the years, and its official Twitter account has recently promoted news coverage of his high-profile, postelection lecturing and appellate work.

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Robert Cogswell, the general counsel, has also been named in Jones’s retaliation complaint. According to the charge, “[T]his punishment for my having filed discrimination complaints followed a written attempt by the General Counsel of the University, Robert Cogswell, to coerce me into resigning my faculty appointment effective February 14, 2017, pressure that I refused because I have a perfect record. This correspondence with Cogswell is entirely admissible under Title VII to establish my claims of retaliation. It had left me under the impression that the University Board of Trustees was reviewing my tenure application for the affirmative vote.”

A growing case

In an interview, Jones suggested that the involvement of particular faculty members on the tenure panel who participated in the tenure-application tabling might take matters beyond the EEOC. Jones said that, in fall 2015, he was led to believe his tenure application was in progress while he was on leave at Oxford University. However, he returned to learn in late February that the tenured faculty had abandoned his application months earlier without telling him.

Campbell has found itself in hot water with the EEOC previously. According to the National Institutes of Health’s website, Campbell University agreed to settle a lawsuit and pay $325,000 to a physical education instructor fired in 1993 after the university learned he had AIDS. As part of the pre-trial settlement of that case, the victim of the discrimination was to return to the university’s payroll in 1995, and “at a new job which he developed.”

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

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