Southern U. President Agrees to Settle Whistleblower Lawsuit - Higher Education
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Southern U. President Agrees to Settle Whistleblower Lawsuit

by Scott Dyer

BATON ROUGE, La.
Southern University System President Ralph Slaughter has agreed to settle his whistleblower lawsuit over alleged sexual harassment by the chairman of his system’s governing board in exchange for a two-year contract and a salary supplement that will nearly double his state-funded salary of $220,000.

Slaughter had filed a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors, two individual board members and Gov. Kathleen Blanco, claiming that they were attempting to fire him because he went public with sexual harassment complaints from nine university female employees against Southern Board Chairman Johnny Anderson, who is also the governor’s assistant chief of staff.

 

Slaughter was granted a temporary restraining order in July from U.S. Judge Ralph Tyson that prevented the board from firing him until the lawsuit was resolved. Tyson ordered both sides to try and negotiate a settlement, and slapped a gag order on all parties during the negotiations.

The board signed off on the proposed settlement Wednesday night, agreeing to pay Slaughter’s legal fees and gave him a contract that protects his job for two years. The deal increases his state-funded annual salary from $210,000 to $220,000 and will give him a $200,000 privately funded salary supplement through the university’s foundation. In the past, the Southern University System president served at the pleasure of the board and could be fired at any time.

Slaughter said he expects to drop the lawsuit, after the governor signs off on the settlement.

In an interview, Slaughter said the first time that he met with state negotiators, they offered him $400,000 out of the state insurance fund to settle the case. Slaughter said he asked that the money be used to set up a scholarship fund but was told that it wasn’t legally possible.

“That’s really the only thing I regret about all of this, because I wanted to do something for the students,” Slaughter said.

The case was growing increasingly expensive for the state, which was picking up the tab for 15 attorneys to defend the lawsuit.

Slaughter said his $210,000 per year salary will not supplant any funds earmarked for the university.

In granting Slaughter a temporary restraining order in July, Judge Tyson pointed to undisputed testimony from two female Southern University employees that Anderson had sexually harassed 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 shunned his advances. Carr’s supervisor testified that Anderson had instructed her not to consider Carr for the promotion, because she had previously worked in the university’s financial aid office.

A second alleged victim, Southern Alumni Secretary Cynthia Robinson, testified that Anderson asked last summer if she “needed a boyfriend.” He then allegedly attempted to kiss her, but she turned her head. At an alumni conference in Philadelphia a few weeks later, Anderson approached her and complained that she was not “giving him the attention” that he deserved.

Anderson has repeatedly denied the allegations and abstained when the board ratified the settlement with an 11-1 vote in an emergency meeting Wednesday. The sole dissenting vote came for board member Dale Atkins, who was named individually in the lawsuit. The other board member named individually in the suit is John Joseph, who resigned in June.

In his ruling, Tyson made it clear that Slaughter’s attorney had presented evidence of sexual harassment.

“The un-contradicted testimony … established that, on at least two occasions, Louisiana law prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace was violated in that unwelcome sexual advances were made by Anderson to a university employee,” Tyson wrote in his ruling.

 

The judge’s finding was important because Slaughter had to prove that the law was broken in order for Slaughter to qualify for protection as a whistleblower.

During that same hearing, Slaughter testified that several Southern board members were aware of Anderson’s alleged advances, but appeared more interested in covering up the incidents than doing anything about it.

Slaughter also testified that he took the allegations to state Sen. Charles Jones, a Democrat from Monroe, on the advice of Frances Smith, a Southern University attorney who wrote the system sexual harassment policy. Smith said the policy applied to Southern University employees and students but not board members.

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 Southern University System, claiming it prompted the federal grand jury investigation and painted the historically Black university system in a bad light. In May, the board voted to suspend Slaughter with pay for two months. He returned to work after the restraining order was granted.

 

On Thursday, Slaughter said the settlement would not prevent the women who were allegedly harassed by Anderson from pursuing their complaints.

“I think this whole thing has raised a lot of awareness about sexual harassment,” he said.

 — Scott Dyer  


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