Diverse Docket: Alabama State Assessed More than $2M in Harassment Suit - Higher Education
Higher Education News and Jobs

Diverse Docket: Alabama State Assessed More than $2M in Harassment Suit

by Eric Freedman

 

U.S. District Judge W. Harold Albritton reduced the plaintiffs’ fee request from more than $1.4 million to $1,123,034.

U.S. District Judge W. Harold Albritton reduced the plaintiffs’ fee request from more than $1.4 million to $1,123,034.

Alabama State University must pay more than $1.1 million in attorney fees and legal costs on top of almost $1.1 million in damages, plus interest, for race and gender harassment and retaliation against three ex-employees, a federal judge has ruled.

Insurance will cover most of Alabama State’s “financial exposure,” the university said.

The fee award follows a jury verdict in favor of Jacqueline Weatherly, Cynthia Williams and Lydia Burkhalter. Two are African-American and one is biracial.

The three had worked under the supervision of Dr. John Knight and LaVonette Bartley, who subjected them to frequent racist and sexist comments in a hostile work environment, according to trial testimony in 2012. Both Knight and Bartley are African-American.

During the seven-year period covered by the lawsuit, Knight had been special assistant to the president, acting president and chief operating officer at the university, as well as a state representative. He is currently executive vice president and chief operating officer, according to the Alabama State directory.

Bartley worked for Knight as associate executive director in the Office of the Special Assistant to the President.

U.S. District Judge W. Harold Albritton reduced the plaintiffs’ fee request from more than $1.4 million to $1,123,034.

In a formal statement, the university said it had expected to have to pay attorney fees and was pleased that Albritton reduced the amount requested. “The federal laws used by these plaintiffs in their lawsuit provide for an award of attorney’s fees and costs to the “prevailing party,” the statement said.

Last September, the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the jury verdict, saying in its opinion, “We apologize for the offensive and demeaning language contained in this opinion, but such language comes directly from the trial record.”

The appeals panel also said, “We are left to speculate who is in charge at ASU. Regardless, however, we are unnerved by the apparent acquiescence to, if not outright condoning of, the abusive work environment created by its high-level employees. Such conduct simply has no place in a work environment, especially at a publicly funded university.”

Case can go forward

A former doctoral student at the University of Michigan can pursue her sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation suit against the university and several of its officials and faculty members, according to a federal judge in Detroit.

U.S. District Judge Sean Cox rejected a request by the university to toss out the case filed by Jennifer Dibbern.

Cox said the suit alleged that Dibbern “was wrongfully dismissed from her Ph.D. program after years of experiencing sexual and gender-based harassment, about which she complained to numerous university officials and faculty, and in response to which the university took absolutely no helpful action.”

Dibbern joined the Department of Material Science and Engineering in fall 2007 as one of five women among about 25 Ph.D. students. The lawsuit alleges that, from the beginning, male students subjected her to a steady stream of sexist comments, one male student threatened to rape her and another stalked her, while a male researcher in her lab subjected her to unwanted physical contact.

Complaints to her advisor, faculty members and administrators, including the university’s Title IX coordinator, failed to spark any remedial action, according to the decision, and she lost her research appointments as a form of retaliation for complaining.

The department chair told Dibbern that she was being dropped from the program in 2011 with no opportunity to appeal.

The suit alleges that the university violated IX through sex discrimination, a sexually hostile educational environment and retaliation, as well as violations of her equal protection, privacy and First Amendment free speech rights.

In his decision, Cox rejected the university’s arguments that Dibbern waited too long to sue and that she failed to offer enough evidence that officials retaliated against her or that the university policy conflicts with the requirements of Title IX.

Age discrimination suit dismissed

A federal judge in Mobile, Ala., has thrown out an unsuccessful faculty applicant’s age discrimination suit against the president of Bishop State Community College, Dr. James Lowe.

The plaintiff, John McCampbell, failed to present evidence that Lowe’s reasons for choosing another candidate was a pretext for age bias, U.S. Chief District Judge William Steele held.

McCampbell was a part-time adjunct barbering instructor from 2000 to 2005 and a full-time instructor from 2005 to 2007, when the college terminated him for reasons not mentioned in the decision.

In 2011, when he was more than 40 years old, he was one of two finalists for a full-time instructor position. The screening committee found that both applicants met the minimum requirements but did not rank them or recommend which one should be hired.

After interviews, Lowe chose the 38-year-old finalist who had been working at the college for one and a half years as a temporary barbering lab assistant.

McCampbell sued Lowe and Bishop State but withdrew his claims against the college.

To justify his choice, Lowe cited the successful candidate’s stronger oral communication skills, greater enthusiasm for the job and suggestions for improving the program.

In his decision, Steele said McCampbell “identified no weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies or contradictions in Lowe’s professed reasons” for choosing the younger candidate. Nor did McCampbell show that the hiring decision “was inconsistent with any Bishop State policies or practices.”

And although McCampbell had more teaching experience than the other finalist, Steele found no evidence that the college “made hiring decisions based on total teaching experience.”

Semantic Tags:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *