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Diverse Docket: Scaled-back Suit Allowed to Move Forward

091815_DocketA fired faculty member can pursue race discrimination and retaliation claims against Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, Virginia, a federal judge has ruled.

However, the judge threw out Dr. Roderick Neal’s allegations of racially disparate compensation and denial of due process.

Neal, who is African-American, joined the college in 2010 and received high job performance and student evaluations through 2014, according to Senior U.S. District Judge Jackson Kiser. He also received a promotion appointment proposal that would move him from associate professor to full professor of sociology and psychology.

The college didn’t reappoint Neal after a female student made but then withdrew her complaint about “inappropriate sexual comments” and class cancellations and after Neal complained to the administration about “salary inequality” between White and non-White faculty. In addition, Neal said college administrators took no action after he reported that a “non-minority student used the ‘N-word’ in his class.”

He sued, and the college asked Kiser to dismiss the case.

Siding with the college on the compensation claim because Neal didn’t present evidence that any White associate professor received a higher salary than he did, Kiser said, “His complaint is that no one is paid enough, not that he was paid less because he is African-American.”

Similarly, the due process claim fell short because Neal had initiated but voluntarily withdrew his internal grievance.

Meanwhile, Kiser found sufficient evidence for Neal to go ahead with a Title VII discrimination claim based on the argument that he met the college’s “legitimate expectation” for job performance.

As for retaliation, the judge said the suit was sufficient because Neal was fired within five months of receiving strong evaluations and questioning income inequality for Black professors.

Appeal bid denied

A federal appeals court has refused to reinstate a sex discrimination suit against an Indiana University School of Medicine faculty member who was terminated for poor performance.

Dr. Subah Packer joined the physiology department as a postdoctoral fellow in 1986 and became a tenure-track assistant professor in 1994, according to the decision. In 1999, the university’s promotion and tenure committee recommended her advancement, but the dean did not and she was denied tenure. After a successful grievance, she was awarded tenure in 2001.

She received unsatisfactory ratings in six of her nine annual reviews between 2005 and 2006 and 2011 and 2012 based on “below-expectation achievements with respect to research,” including grants, the court said.

Before the university terminated her as of December 2013, she filed a Title VII and Equal Pay Act suit, alleging gender discrimination in compensation, working conditions and retaliation. After her termination, she added a discharge-related claim.

The suit alleged that IU treated male colleagues more favorably in pay and lab assignments even if they had comparable or worse research grant records than hers. It also claimed that the department chair had hired no women faculty members since taking over the department in 2004.

A lower court judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

A unanimous opinion by 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Ilana Rovner also sided with the university.

Packer didn’t provide sufficient evidence to support any of her claims and to proceed to trial, the court held. For example, it said she “failed to identify and discuss even one male comparator who was paid more than she was.”

Gender bias suit

A student expelled from Colgate University for “non-consensual sexual activity” must use his real name if he wants to continue his gender discrimination suit, a federal magistrate judge in Syracuse, New York, has held.

The public interest in full disclosure outweighs the ex-student’s interest in privacy, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Peebles said, giving “John Doe” the choice between identifying himself in court documents or dismissal of the suit.

According to the decision, three female students complained to the university about his unwanted sexual conduct in 2011 and 2012. Colgate’s Equity Grievance Panel held a disciplinary proceeding that led to expulsion shortly before his graduation.

He sued Colgate, alleging that the university’s investigation was “flawed, arbitrary and capricious,” as well as discriminatory based on his sex.

In the decision, Peebles said it’s a “rare privilege” for courts to allow a litigant to proceed under a pseudonym.

“Although the litigation involves accusations that are sensitive and personal in nature, he has not identified any real or specific risk of harm, including any risk of retaliation that he may encounter if his identity is revealed,” Peebles said.

“He has voluntarily opted to commence this litigation and air his grievances in a quintessentially public forum. Presumably, by doing so, he believes his case to be meritorious,” Peebles said. If “Doe” wins, the decision continued, “his reputation will be cleared while the university’s unlawful conduct remains public.”

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