UMN to pay outspoken former employee $65,000 in wrongful termination lawsuit

Former employee Alysia Lajune claimed she was fired after she criticized University police for racial profiling.

Mike Hendrickson

The University of Minnesota will pay $65,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging it fired an employee over her comments about racial profiling of African-Americans on campus.

The settlement was reached between Alysia Lajune and the University on March 10. The University did not admit any wrongdoing, Lajune’s lawyer Zorislav Leyderman said, and Lajune agreed not to seek employment at the University in the future as terms of the settlement.

“It’s vindicating for me,” Lajune said. “I’m satisfied with the settlement.”

Lajune said she was fired by University in 2014, where she worked as an assistant to Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert, according to the lawsuit filed in July.

During her time at the University, Lajune also served as the president of the University’s Black Faculty and Staff Association. She said she raised concerns over racial profiling in the University’s crime alerts in 2013.

According to the lawsuit, the University of Minnesota Police Department sent out a wave of crime alerts in the fall of 2013 describing suspects generally, using “black male” without other ways to identify a suspect.

Lajune and others from University-affiliated organizations met with the then-UMPD Chief Greg Hestness and voiced concerns over the vague alerts.

An alert went out after the meeting that described a suspect as “a black man in a black puffy jacket,” and later led to an innocent bystander being identified as a suspect.

Following the alert, Lajune sent a petition about the alert and UMPD to University President Eric Kaler and other high-ranking University officials. Lajune alleged she received positive reinforcement from Albert afterwards.

Lajune then criticized a University official at a public forum in Jan. 2014. She received a warning letter and her contract was not renewed in Sept. 2014, according to the lawsuit.

Lajune alleged that her right to free speech was violated, her personal and professional reputations were damaged and was emotionally distressed as a result.

Five months after Lajune left, the University changed its policy for crime alerts to be more selective in describing suspects.

“This was mainly about free speech,” Leyderman said. “A person’s ability to speak … shouldn’t cause them to lose their job.”