Former employee appeals University discrimination suit

by Thomas Douty

A former University hospital employee is appealing a ruling by a federal court saying the school did not discriminate against him.
Dennis High, an employee on the school’s security staff, originally sued the University in 1998, claiming his superiors refused to promote him because he is black.
The case was struck down last November when U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kyle ruled against High, concluding the “alleged harassment was not severe or pervasive,” and High failed to demonstrate he was discriminated against.
According to court documents, the University claimed High was not qualified for the position.
“We believe the judge’s action is consistent with the evidence and appropriate for his claim,” said William Donohue, associate general counsel for the University.
But Dennis Pelowski, High’s attorney, says his client should have received the supervisory position because he was already performing the duties he would have been assigned had he received the promotion.
“If (High) can’t get a promotion into a position which he is already basically doing, something is wrong,” Pelowski said.
A struggle to work
In 1985, High applied as a hospital security officer. Robert Nygren, a supervisor, didn’t hire him because he felt High lacked experience.
But in 1987, an investigation by the hospital union decided in High’s favor, saying he satisfied the job requirements. The union suggested he be hired as soon as the next security position opened.
Still, High was not offered a position. In 1988 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stepped in and found the University had indeed discriminated against High. The school was forced to immediately offer him a position and give him $1,451 in back pay.
In 1995, High applied for a supervisory position at the hospital, the source of the current litigation. Nygren was again involved in the hiring process.
The University said High was not promoted because he scored fifth out of six applicants during a three-person panel interview.
But Pelowski said the interview process was unfair.
“We’re not contesting what the U says High’s ranking is. What we’re contesting is, was that process fair?” he said.
Pelowski said Nygren should not have been involved in the promotion process.
“The same guy that was found by these two agencies to have discriminated against High sat on the panel that made the determination for his promotion,” said Pelowski.
According to court documents, High claimed that in 1989, a fellow employee said he was a “monkey.” On another occasion, he overheard a co-worker refer to him as “nigger.”
High claimed he has often been disciplined for actions other employees were not and that he was falsely accused of arriving late for work on several occasions.
High said in one instance he made a radio call seeking assistance for a potentially dangerous situation; no one responded to the call and as a result a University police officer sustained a serious injury.
“You wouldn’t believe the extent to which they let racism come in and be part of the atmosphere around that security office,” Pelowski said.

Thomas Douty welcomes comments at [email protected]