Korean Employee Files Suit Against the University of Alaska, Cites Race, Religion Discrimination - Higher Education


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Korean Employee Files Suit Against the University of Alaska, Cites Race, Religion Discrimination

by Associated Press

Korean Employee Files Suit Against the University of Alaska, Cites Race, Religion Discrimination 

ANCHORAGE, Alaska

      A University of Alaska Anchorage employee filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging he was denied pay and advancement because of his race and religion.

      John Mun is a Korean Buddhist who says he was passed over for less qualified White or Christian workers. He alleges that Rick Weems, now assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management, and other managers in the Enrollment Services office kept minorities from managerial jobs and promoted less-qualified White or Christian workers, giving preference to those who participated in a prayer group.

      A trial is scheduled for Feb. 6.

      UAA has denied all of the claims.

      Weems, reached at his university office, called Mun “disgruntled employee.” Weems said he never mentioned religion at work and was not part of a work-related prayer group.

      One of the managers in the office had asked employees to pray before the beginning of the work day on more than one occasion, Weems said, but there had never been an official office prayer group.

      Outside of the office, employees are free to gather and pray, Weems said.

      “I couldn’t tell you if any of my staff do that or not,” he said.

      Mun started working for the university in 1994 and was promoted in 2001 to the job of curriculum advising and program planning coordinator, managing a computer program that helps students keep track of credits. In 2002, he was asked to work extra time and offered about $2,000 extra pay, he said. When he wasn’t paid, he complained to Weems.

      “Initially, he told me don’t worry about it, it’s all taken care of,” Mun said. “Then, when I tried to more formally get something from him, he responded back saying, ‘You’re stuck in an hourly mind-set.’ … It was a really harsh e-mail.”

      Worried about his pay, Mun filed a grievance, which eventually was resolved in his favor.

      Mun said he had become increasingly uncomfortable with what he felt was a prevalently Christian environment at work. Co-workers asked him to attend church and prayer group. His supervisor suggested that employees “pray about” work-related issues, he said.

      “Certain individuals would send work-related e-mails with religious quotes in them,” Mun said. “People at work were selectively asked to participate in prayer, even during work hours.”

      Mun said he began to feel treatment he received from managers was related to his race and his religious beliefs.

      “My supervisor at the time, he would make comments toward me about having difficulty with English,” Mun said. “He would make comments such as I need a degree to further my career within the university. If he had reviewed my application, he would have known I have a master’s degree (in English).

      “To me, those are code words for discrimination.”

      Mun said he applied for a promotion, received a rejection letter, and later discovered his application had never been sent to a committee for consideration.

      Mun filed a second grievance about the discrimination, but the university did not find evidence of discrimination in the internal review.

      Mun’s position in Enrollment Services was eliminated. He now works in another office at the university.

      Weems said Mun would have been promoted if he had the background that prepared him for the extra responsibility required by a new position.

      “He didn’t meet the qualifications for the job,” Weems said.

— Associated Press



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