BATON ROUGE, La.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Tyson granted a injunction Thursday to prevent the Southern University Board of Supervisors from firing Southern University President Ralph Slaughter until his lawsuit against the board can be tried.
Slaughter had filed a lawsuit claiming that he was a whistleblower who was targeted for termination because he tried to protect several female employees from sexual harassment by Southern Board Chairman Johnny Anderson, who is also the governor’s assistant chief of staff.
The ruling clears the way for Slaughter to return to work as president of the nation’s largest historically Black university system after a two-month paid suspension.
The judge had granted a temporary restraining order last month when the board called an emergency meeting to discuss Slaughter’s employment.
Slaughter’s lawsuit against the Southern Board and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco alleged that Anderson sexually harassed nine female university employees, including two who testified during the five-day hearing.
One of the alleged victims, internal auditor Linda Carr, testified that Anderson asked her if she “needed a boyfriend like me.” Carr’s supervisor also testified that Anderson had instructed her not to consider Carr for a promotion after the incident.
Southern Alumni secretary Cynthia Robinson, testified that Anderson once tried to kiss her, but she turned her head away. And Robinson said Anderson approached her at an alumni conference last summer and said she wasn’t “giving him the attention” that he deserved.
Attorneys for the Southern Board had argued that Slaughter had defied the normal protocol by taking the complaints to a Louisiana Senate Committee, where they triggered an ongoing federal grand jury investigation.
On behalf of the board, attorney Charles McGowan said that granting the restraining order would allow Slaughter, who by law is an at-will employee, to serve as “president for life.” McGowan alleged that Slaughter had failed to cooperate in two internal investigations into the sexual harassment allegations.
But Slaughter testified that he confronted a majority of the board members about the complaints against Anderson. He said several board members appeared to be more interested in covering up the complaints than protecting the victims.
Slaughter said he took the complaints to the legislative panel that confirms Southern Board members on the advice of Southern University attorney Frances Smith, who wrote the university’s sexual harassment policy and told Slaughter that it applied only to employees and students, not board members.
Former Southern University student board member Chris Jackson testified that three newly appointed board members had said they had marching orders from the governor to bring change to the Southern University. Jackson said he took that to mean a change in the presidency.
Jackson also testified about how several board members talked about firing Slaughter during a May 5 executive session. Jackson said he voted for the motion to suspend Slaughter with pay for two months in an effort to save his job.
Jackson also said board member Dale Atkins, who became interim chairman when Anderson voluntarily gave up his gavel until the controversy is concluded, also suggested that the governor may be out to get Slaughter.
Slaughter’s lawsuit against the board was originally filed in state district court, but Jackson said board members were informed during a May 30 teleconference that the governor wanted to switch the venue to federal court.
“Dale Atkins told us she met with the governor, and she wanted us to put the case in federal court because she thought Dr. Slaughter had a lot of friends and political connections in the state court system,” Jackson said.
Several board members testified that they considered Slaughter to be insubordinate because he failed to cooperate with an investigation into the alleged sexual harassment by Mark Falcon, a private attorney hired by the governor’s office.
Slaughter has said that Falcon never showed that he had the proper legal credentials to gain access to the sensitive personnel records, which at the time had been turned over to a federal grand jury.
Slaughter’s attorney, Jill Craft, said Falcon’s probe was superficial. “What kind of investigation is conducted when you don’t even bother to try and contact the women who were allegedly sexually harassed?” Craft asked.
And Craft argued that a subsequent investigation by Lester Pourcou, the human resources director at Southern University at Baton Rouge, was a rush job, noting that Pourcou was still interviewing witnesses the night before the report was presented to the board.
Pourcou testified that only two of Anderson’s alleged victims had agreed to be interviewed for his internal investigation. Pourcou said the complaints against Anderson didn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment.
But Craft said Pourcou had been fired from Louisiana State University years ago, and argued that testimony from the victim showed that Anderson’s actions amounted to sexual harassment.
– Scott Dyer
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