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Judge Limits Professor’s Suit against North Park University

Chicago’s North Park faces Dr. Maria Reyes’ race discrimination and breach of contract suit.Chicago’s North Park faces Dr. Maria Reyes’ race discrimination and breach of contract suit.

A tenured associate professor who was passed up for promotion can pursue her race discrimination and breach-of-contract allegations, but not claims for Title VII violations and retaliation, a federal judge has ruled in a suit against North Park University in Chicago.

The decision came from U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber in a suit by Dr. Maria Reyes, who is Hispanic and of Puerto Rican descent.

North Park hired Reyes in 1999, according to the ruling. In 2007, she filed an EEOC complaint alleging racial discrimination, but the parties settled that dispute when the university agreed that its president would recommend her for tenure. As another part of the settlement, the university agreed not to use a critical 2006 Faculty Personnel Committee report in making future personnel decisions.

But when Reyes was denied promotion to full professor in 2009, the new committee report “cited liberally” from the prior adverse report, the suit said.

Reyes claims that White colleagues “with equally low or inferior student satisfaction surveys and with an equal or lower record of scholarship and attainment” received promotions.

The suit includes allegations beyond those related to her unsuccessful bid for promotion. For example, it asserts that minority faculty colleagues were routinely omitted from minutes of department meetings, and it accuses Education Dean Dr. Rebecca Nelson of trying to “rid the department of minorities” and failing to “mentor her or provide constructive feedback,” according to the decision.

Leinenweber dismissed the Title VII claims because Reyes failed to file EEOC complaints on time. He also found no evidence that the university had retaliated for the 2007 EEOC complaint that was settled.

However, he let her go forward with the Section 1981 civil rights race discrimination claim against North Park and Nelson, as well as the contract claim against the university. “Certainly in terms of the adverse promotion decision, (the suit) communicates that race was the motivating factor, at least as far as Dr. Nelson is concerned,” he said.

John Brooks, North Park’s director of media relations and news, said the university has a policy against commenting on current litigation. Reyes said she cannot discuss details of the case.


Discrimination suit against Mississippi Valley rejected

A federal appeals court has rejected a race discrimination and retaliation suit against Mississippi Valley State University by its former director of diversity, who is White.

The three-judge panel unanimously said Linda Bourgeois failed to show that her termination during a reduction-in-force was a pretext for discrimination.

MVSU hired Bourgeois in 2007. In 2009, she filed an EEOC complaint alleging that the university treated her differently from her African-American colleagues, for example, by being denied a secretary, being placed under surveillance and receiving multiple written warnings in a single day. That complaint was settled.

She filed a second EEOC complaint in January 2010 and was notified four months later that the university wasn’t renewing her contract. She then filed a third EEOC complaint, followed by a Title VII lawsuit.

A lower-court judge dismissed the case without trial.

In upholding that decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a reduction-in-force is “a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for discharge” and that the university offered extensive evidence about its fiscal problems.

According to court documents, MVSU’s budget problems were caused by a drop in enrollment that led to reduced state appropriations. An internal committee recommended eliminating positions and consolidating duties as part of a plan to cut the budget by 5 percent.

Two other administrative positions were eliminated at the same time as hers, and none of the three employees were hired for other jobs within MVSU, said university attorney James Metz of Ridgeland.

Metz also said Bourgeois had testified in a deposition that race wasn’t the reason why MVSU didn’t renew her contract.

NYU Wins Disability Discrimination Suit

New York University’s College of Dentistry did not commit disability discrimination when it dismissed a student with a learning disability who failed part of a mandatory national exam four times, according to a federal appeals panel.

The law doesn’t require the university to provide “an unlimited number of opportunities to complete the exam,” the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said.

The decision came in a suit by Herrick Lipton, who began NYU’s dental program in 2000 and was dismissed on academic grounds after his first year, was readmitted and repeated the first year.

While Lipton was a second-year student, NYU adopted a new graduation requirement that students must pass Part II of the National Board of Dental Examiners exam. While a fourth-year student in 2005, Lipton underwent a neuropsychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with a reading and comprehension disability.

After NYU provided a “time-and-a-half accommodation,” he passed Part 1 of the national exam, which he’d failed three times before. However, he failed Part 2 four times and was dismissed despite passing all his courses.

The suit claimed violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act and state and city anti-discrimination laws.

The university disputed the allegations, and a lower-court judge threw out the case without trial.

Also siding with NYU, the appellate court held that NYU didn’t fail to reasonably accommodate Lipton’s reading disability.

His proposed accommodation of more chances to pass the national test bore only a “tenuous relationship to his reading disability,” it said. “Moreover, NYU’s refusal to create such an exception to its graduation requirements is entitled to great deference.”

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