Lawsuit Alleges Discrimination at Jackson State

Jackson State University has seen the unlikely confluence of a popular Ph.D., who is married to a famous civil rights activist, waging a legal battle against the historically Black institution for alleged age and sex discrimination.

 

Dr. Judith Meredith filed suit last month in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi against the university and Anthony Dean, the director of university communications. In the lawsuit, which seeks $3 million in damages, Meredith describes a series of discriminatory and retaliatory actions taken against her.

 

Among the allegations: “Dean made sexually discriminatory remarks to plaintiff, calling her a ‘Redbone’ in the presence of her peers and co-workers, subjecting her to humiliation and disgrace.”

 

Both Meredith and Dean are African-American. Meredith is married to James Meredith, who broke racial barriers in 1962 when he integrated the University of Mississippi amid violent protests.

 

For 13 years, Meredith, now 60, was manager of Jackson State’s television station, TV 23, until Dean became her supervisor in 2007. The suit contends that Dean hired a younger, Black male without a college degree to replace Meredith, who had just earned her doctorate from Mississippi State University.

 

After filing a grievance with the university against Dean, Meredith was subsequently transferred to the department of mass communication as a faculty member. “There were no teaching positions available, no classes for the plaintiff to teach and nothing for the plaintiff to do in that department,” the suit alleged. However, Meredith continued to receive her previous salary.

 

A university grievance committee found that Meredith had been a victim of harassment and recommended that Dean be demoted. According to Evelyn Portie, Meredith’s attorney, no action was taken against Dean despite the committee’s recommendation.

 

The attorney says Meredith took her complaints directly to JSU president Dr. Ronald Mason prior to contacting legal counsel and filing a grievance. “He did nothing, so she had no choice. She is not the kind of person who seeks this kind of attention,” Portie says.

 

The grievance committee also recommended that Meredith not work with Dean or the younger man he hired to supervise the TV station’s operations.

 

Jackson State University’s office of communications, office of the president and general counsel did not return repeated phone calls. However, one Jackson State manager did state that it is the university’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.

 

Dr. Dwight Brooks, chairman of the mass communication department, was unabashed in his support of Meredith in an interview with Diverse. “This was a disaster. The whole episode was a complete and total travesty,” he says. “There was no position for her to fill when she was transferred; there is supposed to be a search process. It was a bogus search and they violated certain procedures by assigning her to this department. It was a sad thing, and it breaks my heart. I’m embarrassed that it happened at an institution where I am employed.” Brooks has resigned from the university effective June 30.

 

Andrew Love, a current TV 23 employee, says he observed repeated incidents of retaliation against Meredith and, despite concerns for his own job security, testified on her behalf at the grievance hearing.

 

“The way she was treated was shabby, unprofessional and undeserved,” says Love, who notes that he has known Meredith for about 20 years in the television industry.

 

“She is well respected and professional. I am not aware of her having problems with any person or situation prior to this,” Love tells Diverse. “I supported her at the grievance hearing because it came down to a question of right or wrong and what happened to her was wrong.”

 

Meredith asserts in the suit that she was repeatedly placed in humiliating situations, which led to emotional stress and illness. For example, she says because she was moved out of the TV station to a department that had no space for her, she was forced to either wait outside her old office or in her vehicle while her office was used by others.

 

Meredith says she regrets that other people, including the four witnesses who testified at the grievance hearing on her behalf, have been adversely affected. “As a graduate of Jackson State and with a number of family members who are alumni, I am not out to hurt the university, but the mistreatment of people, including my witnesses, is wrong and has to stop.”

 

One of those witnesses, Meredith’s former administrative assistant, Erica Steele, says she was informed on Nov. 22, 2008 at 5 p.m. that she had just worked her last day. “I had no warning, no letter, no paperwork, nothing” she had indicated that she was looking for another job and planned to resign “they filled out the paperwork and said I resigned.”

 

At the time Meredith’s problems began, Dean was being sued by another employee, Kushauntia Jones, for alleged sexual harassment. In that complaint, Jones said Dean inappropriately touched her and made numerous sexual advances, which she reported to superiors. That case has been settled.



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