University faces new discrimination suit

Yet another racial discrimination case has been filed against the University in federal court, bringing the total number currently in court to three.
Despite University claims that the cases have no merit, the suits raise questions about how workplace discrimination grievances are handled at the University.
Willis L. Waddell, a former facilities management grounds worker, filed suit against the University in U.S. District Court Dec. 29, alleging violations under the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
According to the complaint, University officials denied Waddell’s request for time off work to heal a foot injury he sustained while on the job. Waddell, who worked from October 1995 to May 1996, was terminated after he took the time off anyway.
The complaint also states that Waddell, who is black, endured months of racial verbal abuse from his employers. He alleges that he was told “you can’t expect a boy or an invalid to get a job done.”
Neither Waddell nor his attorney George Smith could be reached for comment.
Last summer, another former facilities management worker, James Scroggins, alleged that he experienced discrimination by his employer, fellow employees and University Police because he is black. Scroggins was ultimately fired in 1997.
Last November, University Police officer Jeffrey Gilchrist, currently the force’s only black officer, also filed suit against the University, claiming among other things that he has been passed over on promotions because of his race.
In each case, the University claims that poor job performance or poor disciplinary records constitute the only basis for any actions against the plaintiffs.
In turn, the plaintiffs claim that poor job performance reviews and disciplinary actions were initiated because of their color.
But University officials are not surprised at the number of cases in court.
University head attorney Mark Rotenberg said the sheer size of the University contributes to the number of cases in litigation.
“We are the second-largest employer in the state of Minnesota,” Rotenberg said. “The fact that there are three complaints on the docket is not surprising at all. The fact that they are all in federal court might be notable.”
For any discrimination case to reach the courts, a number of internal grievance channels must be exhausted.
University employees have a large number of options, from individual employee unions to various University employee relations or grievance offices.
Julie Sweitzer, director in the office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, said the many channels are an advantage.
“I think it should be easy for people to find someone who will address their concern,” Sweitzer said.
Clinical Law Professor Carl Warren said that many levels of legislation exist to protect minorities against modern forms of discrimination.
“The courts have grappled with this issue for many years,” Warren said. “We live in a different era. In the sixties we had people being kept from attending schools with sawed off broom handles; people of color were not allowed to sit at lunch counters and signs above water fountains said ‘whites only.'”
He said that in those days, the motives were clear.
“But as time has passed, discriminators have become much more sophisticated in their ability to conceal discriminatory acts.”
He also said that if the evidence suggests the employee’s minority status played any role in the employer’s actions — regardless of whether an employer can provide legitimate reasons for taking the action — that is considered discrimination.
Warren added that most of these types of cases are settled out of court.