Dr. Briant K. Coleman, a former associate vice president for strategic initiatives, communications and marketing at the University of Central Florida (UCF), has filed a lawsuit against the institution, claiming that he experienced and witnessed widespread workplace harassment. When he complained about it, he alleges that he was fired.
Throughout his tenure at UCF, Coleman alleges that he registered at least 20 complaints of racial discrimination.
In 2017, for example, while serving on the search committee for the Director of Equal Employment Opportunity, he alleges that he heard a White female committee members refer to a Black female candidate as “lazy,” “difficult,” “crazy” and having “mangled” hair. After reporting the incident, he said that he was treated “differently” by fellow staff members. He also alleges that he witnessed a White employee call a Black coworker “the Help,” according to the lawsuit.
Coleman said that after being called the “N-word” by a White coworker in June 2018, he filed another complaint to human resources, but alleges that his supervisor said that “she would see to it that his tenure at the university was over and his career ruined,” if Coleman did not retract the statement, according to the lawsuit.
“Dr. Coleman was one of the only Black males, if not the only Black male in his position,” said Reshad D. Favors, Coleman’s attorney. “And so it was somewhat unprecedented for him to be in his role. Upon him ascending that high, I think that some of these folks in the university made a concerted effort to remove him from that.”
The university described Coleman’s allegations as “not credible,” sighting the results of a 2019 misconduct investigation and added that from February to May 2019, several employees expressed their concerns around Coleman’s “threating, intimidating and bullying behavior” to human resources, and the Office of Institutional Equity.
“Faculty and staff members have a responsibility to not create a discriminatory hostile environment, which violates the university’s nondiscrimination policy and code of conduct,” Mark Schlueb, director of strategic communications at UCF, wrote in a statement provided to Diverse. “UCF is committed to a culture of inclusive excellence and we do not tolerate discrimination against any students or employees.”
The university’s investigation—which included interviews with 40 employees—30 had been witnesses of, heard about or were directly involved in incidents related to Coleman’s behavior, according to UCF officials.
One employee recalled an incident in which they allegedly contradicted Coleman. In a “quiet” and “angry-toned” response, Coleman allegedly replied, “you’d better be careful what you say about me or you will be in trouble.” This left the employee feeling “uncomfortable” and “scared,” according to UCF officials.
“We appreciate the courage shown by the dozens of employees who shared their stories with investigators,” Schlueb wrote in the statement. “During the course of the investigation Briant was found to be untruthful and uncooperative, a trend we see repeated in his recent lawsuit. We will vigorously defend these claims.”
Coleman was eventually terminated from his post on October 18, 2019.
Favors said that his client’s performance was never questioned and that UCF employees “coalesced” together to push him out. He said that Coleman has faced difficulties finding employment at another institution and has experienced mental anguish.
“Just being told that you are terminated, you are not good enough, that certainly has an effect on anyone,” he said. “I think a lot of times, we associate what we do with who we are. By all accounts, I think that Dr. Coleman has proved that he does his job well. But to be told that we don’t want you around anymore is certainly damaging to anyone’s mental psyche.”
Coleman is seeking more than $100,000 from the university in damages. Favors said that beyond compensation, the goal is to “restore Coleman’s professional reputation and change the culture of the university.”
“We live in a very different time now where these universities and these corporations are putting out statements regarding Black lives and how Black Lives Matter,” he added. “The university has a chance to prove that Black Lives Matter with how they treat the disposition of Dr. Coleman’s case.”
Sarah Wood can be reached at email@example.com.