Judge Sides with Oakland University in Bias Suit - Higher Education
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Judge Sides with Oakland University in Bias Suit

by Eric Freedman


Judge Gershwin A. Drain found an insufficient basis for Dr. Dorothy Hawthorne-Burdine’s claims against Oakland University.

Judge Gershwin A. Drain found an insufficient basis for Dr. Dorothy Hawthorne-Burdine’s claims against Oakland University.

A former nursing faculty member who was barred from the Oakland University campus for behavioral reasons and had her contract terminated has lost her race, age and diabetes-related discrimination suit.

A federal judge in Detroit found an insufficient basis for Dr. Dorothy Hawthorne-Burdine’s claims.

In 2010, Oakland University hired Hawthorne-Burdine, who is African-American, as an associate professor. However, during her first year there, “things quickly soured between her and the School of Nursing staff,” Judge Gershwin Drain wrote in dismissing the case.

Specifically, she came under criticism for her “confrontational behavior toward administrative staff,” refusal to complete required paperwork and “performance deficiencies,” Drain said.

According to the university, more “adversarial incidents” followed, including verbal abuse, “explosive behavior” and calling the associate dean a “bitch.”

In June 2011, the campus police investigated reports from staff members that Hawthorne-Burdine was so aggressive that colleagues felt uncomfortable and afraid and that she had threatened a coworker.

In September 2013, a student recorded Hawthorne-Burdine’s 22-minute monologue about grading and student incivility. That led to a decision by the Behavioral Concerns Committee that she be barred from campus with full pay and benefits pending a neurological and psychological assessment. She was 61 at the time.

Meanwhile two tenure-review advisory committees unanimously recommended denial of tenure based on her lack of peer-review publications during the review committee and lack of leadership contributions. The board of trustees denied tenure.

She sued under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

In his decision, Drain ruled that Oakland, as a state institution, is immune from liability for damages on ADA and ADEA claims and that the court cannot the grant the type of broad injunction she requested.

As for race discrimination, he said Oakland “provided a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason” for termination because she “had not published in a decade, was rejected for the majority of grants for which she applied and received inconsistent teaching evaluations from students.”

Suit going forward

A federal judge in Honolulu has allowed an Ethiopia-born Web architect at Brigham Young University (BYU)’s Hawaii campus to pursue part of his discrimination suit while dismissing other claims.

In the Title IX, Title VII and civil rights suit, Jinendra Jinadasa said that he is the “only African (dark skinned hue color) administrative staff member” at the campus.

U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway refused BYU’s bid to dismiss allegations of disparate treatment based on gender and race discrimination, as well as retaliation.

The first claim involves allegations that a White female co-worker was paid $15,000 a year more than Jinadasa despite having less education and work experience, lower seniority, lesser responsibilities and poor work performance.

The second is that the same co-worker was treated more favorably because she wasn’t disciplined for honor code violations for using profanity, while he was suspended and banned from campus for violating the honor code.

The retaliation claim that remains involves allegedly adverse employment actions, including bad performance reviews and denial of training trips and awards after he filed an EEOC complaint.

However, Mollway threw out claims that BYU wrongly failed to promote him as director of enterprise information systems and discriminated by not inviting him to office parties and leaving him out of key decision-making decisions.

She also dismissed allegations of emotional distress and First Amendment religious freedom violations.

Bid unsuccessful

A federal appeals court has refused to reinstate a suit accusing Ohio State University (OSU) of race discrimination and First Amendment violations by a graduate student who was suspended twice, once for plagiarism and the second time for violating the terms of the first suspension.

Tracy Thompson was the only African-American in the Master of Health Administration program when she enrolled in 2009, the decision said. The suspensions delayed her planned completion of the degree from 2011 to 2013.

A White professor accused Thompson of plagiarism in a paper, a charge she disputed but that the Committee on Academic Misconduct upheld.

The same professor later wrote a recommendation for Thompson.

Thompson filed an unsuccessful discrimination complaint with the university’s Office of Human Resources.

She later sued OSU under Title VI, Section 1983 and the First Amendment, but a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the case.

In upholding that decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit panel noted that Thompson didn’t dispute that her paper didn’t include quotation marks around “word-for-word direct transfer of materials.”

It also said the professor had “nondiscriminatory rationales” for referring Thompson to the Committee on Academic Misconduct.

The court found no basis for the argument that OSU was deliberately indifferent to her internal complaint of discrimination and that she was targeted for retaliation for exercising her First Amendment right to complain about discrimination.

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