U responds to second race discrimination lawsuit

Former Facilities Management employee James Scroggins Jr. is suing the University and its police department for an undisclosed amount for what he alleges is racial job discrimination.
Scroggins, who is black, worked as a custodian for several University departments and buildings from 1981 until March 18. He was ultimately fired for allegedly sleeping on the job.
His case is one of two racially motivated job discrimination cases against the University currently in federal court. A University Police officer has also served the school with a complaint alleging racial discrimination.
The University recently answered Scroggins’ complaint, which was filed last summer in U.S. District Court. In the complaint, Scroggins alleges several incidents of what he considers racial discrimination on the part of his employers, supervisors, University Police and a co-worker.
University head attorney Mark Rotenberg said Scroggins’ case lacks merit.
“Mr. Scroggins’ performance while working here is the principal problem, not any alleged discrimination against him,” Rotenberg said.
He added that cases like these are most often resolved out of court, with summary judgement or a settlement.
According to the complaint, in one incident, Scroggins entered Cooke Hall to begin a 2:30 a.m. shift on Aug. 27, 1995 when he was approached by University Police officer Patricia Gjerde who asked him for identification.
Gjerde then instructed Scroggins to remain where he was while she called for back-up and his supervisor. Scroggins refused and went upstairs to get into uniform and get his ID, informing Gjerde that he would be on the third floor.
When officers arrived, they approached Scroggins and he presented them with a University identification badge.
Scroggins, however, was arrested on disorderly conduct charges when he became upset after officers asked him for a second form of identification. He alleges one officer told him to “shut his mouth or he would be arrested.”
Charges were dropped after Scroggins spent the night in a Minneapolis jail cell.
In a separate incident on Aug. 28, 1996, Scroggins was having dinner with a friend during his shift when a young man and woman who were walking nearby got into a verbal disagreement with the pair.
According to the complaint, the young couple called University Police. Four officers later approached Scroggins, who was again arrested and held overnight at the city jail.
But again the charges were dropped. According to the complaint, the police originally stated that the young couple had feared for their lives, a fact that Scroggins disputes.
“The two alleged victims … both swore that while Mr. Scroggins had used foul language, he never threatened to kill them …” the complaint states.
The couple allegedly stated they felt pressured by police into making the citizens’ arrest after being told by Gjerde that Scroggins was a constant source of problems.
In October 1996, Scroggins had a series of incidents with a white female student supervisor. The complaint states that the supervisor would scream when she found Scroggins in the dark, a reaction Scroggins said he believed was because of his race.
After an incident in which the supervisor allegedly locked Scroggins out of a building where he had been working, she complained to the department and demanded that Scroggins be transferred out.
An investigation was conducted by Scroggins’ employer. The supervisor said she previously had run-ins with other black males, and gave the indication that the color of Scroggins’ skin was the reason for her reactions to him, the complaint states.
Scroggins was given a three-day suspension and ordered transferred out of the department.
The complaint also describes what Scroggins viewed as a pattern of harassment after the transfer.
On March 6, Scroggins received a written warning from his employer regarding a Feb. 27 incident in which he was found cleaning a bathroom in his stocking feet after a 45-minute search by his supervisors.
Two weeks later, Scroggins was accused of sleeping 10 minutes after his break had expired. He claims that he had never been caught sleeping on the job in 15 years of employment at the University, he was suspended and ultimately fired.
In the University’s response to Scroggins’ complaint, they deny most of his allegations, but admit that Scroggins was caught sleeping on the job and was terminated.
Scroggins’ attorney Joseph Rymanowski is out of town until Jan. 13 and could not be reached for comment.