Ex-accountant sues U, charges discrimination

by Sarah McKenzie

A former financial aid accountant is suing the University and three staff members for more than $200,000, alleging that supervisors discriminated against her based on her race, denied her equal pay and falsely accused her of criminal behavior.
Ruth White-Jarrett, who worked for more than three years in the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, named the University in six counts of discrimination, defamation and retaliation, according to a civil complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court earlier this month.
Sheryl Spivey and Paula Rossin, her former supervisors and administrators in the office, and Rebecca Colberg, the office’s human resources assistant director, were named as the other defendants in the lawsuit.
White-Jarrett is seeking $50,000 in punitive damages from each defendant because their actions represented a “deliberate indifference and a reckless disregard” for her rights, according to the complaint.
Although the litigation is at an early stage, Thomas Schumacher, associate general counsel for the University, said Friday that he doubts the lawsuit will hold up in court.
“I am confident that the case will be dismissed,” he said.
The University’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit is expected to be heard in two months, he added.
Attempts to reach White-Jarrett were unsuccessful and her lawyer did not return phone calls.
The 16-page complaint details the former accountant’s tumultuous relationship with the defendants, culminating with an arrest by the University Police department where White-Jarrett claims Colberg falsely accused her of stealing University property.
She was “embarrassed and humiliated by the unlawful, illegal detention, which defamed her and held her out before all co-workers and other University staff as a criminal,” the complaint states.
Colberg said Friday that she could not comment on the incident because the lawsuit is pending.
The arrest followed White-Jarrett’s termination in February, 1998. According to the lawsuit, she was fired “in direct retaliation for complaining of discrimination and unequal pay.”
Two months prior to the firing, White-Jarrett filed a complaint with the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action after learning that a new accountant was earning $6,000 more than her $25,764 salary, the suit states.
White-Jarrett also alleges that she was denied equal pay and subjected to harassment because she refused to raise Spivey’s credit card limit at Dayton’s, where White-Jarrett worked as a part-time employee.
Spivey allegedly asked for the raise in her credit limit one month after White-Jarrett started working in the office; Spivey could not be reached for comment.
Shortly before her termination, White-Jarrett received one oral warning and had her telephone removed from her office, according to the complaint.
The former accountant then attempted to reach University President Mark Yudof to speak with him about the alleged discrimination following the reprimands.
She did not reach him and filed a grievance form a few days before her firing, the complaint states.