In Bid To Keep Job, SU President Airs Details of Alleged Sexual Harassment Complaint Against Board Chair At Hearing - Higher Education

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In Bid To Keep Job, SU President Airs Details of Alleged Sexual Harassment Complaint Against Board Chair At Hearing

by Scott Dyer

BATON ROUGE, La.

Suspended Southern University System President Ralph Slaughter went to federal court Wednesday in an effort to save his job, and identified seven female university employees who complained about being sexually harassed by Southern Board Chairman Johnny Anderson last year.

Two of the women testified Wednesday that Anderson made unwanted sexual overtures to them. Internal auditor Linda Carr testified that Anderson asked her if she “needed a boyfriend” like him, and claimed that she may have lost a possible promotion because she turned him down.

A second alleged victim, alumni secretary Cynthia Robinson, testified that at one point Anderson tried to kiss her, but she turned her head. And at an alumni conference last summer, Robinson said Anderson complained that she wasn’t “giving him the attention” that he deserved.

The testimony came during a hearing to extend the temporary restraining order that U.S. District Judge Ralph Tyson signed last week to prevent the Southern University Board of Supervisors from firing Slaughter, who has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the board and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Blanco appointed the board members and hired Anderson as her assistant chief of staff three and a half years ago.

Attorneys for the board repeatedly tried to convince the judge to block testimony about Anderson’s alleged sexual harassment, claiming that the focus of the hearing should have been on Slaughter.

“The inquiry today is into the conduct of Ralph Slaughter. It is not about the sexcapades,” said Jack Whitehead, one of several attorneys representing the board.

Whitehead argued that Slaughter did not follow proper protocol to relay the complaints to the university’s human resources department, and did not cooperate in an internal investigation that found no wrongdoing by Anderson.

But Tyson ruled that as a whistleblower, Slaughter had to prove that the board had broken the law in order to receive legal protection.

Slaughter spent most of the day Wednesday on the witness stand, testifying about how he had discussed sexual harassment complaints individually with seven of the 12 board members.

Although several of the board members expressed outrage about the complaint, no action was taken against Anderson, Slaughter said.

One former board member, Anne Kiefer, vowed to take the complaints to the Louisiana Human Rights Commission, the state equivalent of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, which usually handles sexual harassment complaints. Slaughter testified that he later discovered that Anderson headed the state commission.

Slaughter also testified that at one point, assistant alumni affairs director Joseph Shelton came to him with a tape recording of a female employee named Tracie Abraham who claimed that Anderson sexually harassed her.

Slaughter said he took the tape, kept it in a safe place, and turned it over to a federal grand jury that was investigating Anderson’s sexual harassment in December.

During a meeting at the state Capitol last fall, Slaughter said Anderson told him that he knew about the tape, and suggested that it might not be a good idea to keep Shelton on the university’s payroll.

“[Anderson] said that it came to his attention that Joseph Shelton had a tape, and he didn’t think that an employee should be going around with such a tape. He questioned whether Shelton should be working for the university,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter also testified that he took the allegations against Anderson to state Sen. Charles Jones, a Democrat from Monroe, on the advice of Frances Smith, an SU attorney who wrote the system sexual harassment policy.

Jones chairs the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is responsible for confirming the governor’s appointees to the board and high-level jobs.

Several board members have criticized Slaughter for taking the complaints outside the university, claiming that it prompted the federal grand jury investigation and put the historically Black university system in a bad light. In May, the board voted to suspend Slaughter with pay for two months.

Anderson has voluntarily surrendered his chairmanship pending the investigation, but remains on the board.

–Scott Dyer


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