Sherrie Russell-Brown, a former law professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law has filed a racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit against the school and its dean. Her allegations could force the entire faculty to face discovery and a potential trial on actions taken against her and statements made in faculty meetings. She has named Dean Robert H. Jerry, the University of Florida and its board of trustees as defendants.
Among the allegations in her complaint, Russell-Brown says that faculty objected to the selection of a black dean because alumni would not relate to an African American. She also says that one professor shoved her from behind into a white board. She includes alleged references by one professor in class to “a gay Jew” and “a gay Buddhist.” She also says that a professor called one East Asian candidate “Deepak” even though that was not his name and allegedly referred to him being from “India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or whatever.”
Those types of allegations would need to be strengthened in discovery to make out a discrimination claim. She will need to show tolerance or even encouragement for such views. Dean Jerry’s response to past allegations will be central to this discovery.
Discovery however could be highly disruptive for a faculty as members are called for depositions. The allegations are probably sufficient to avoid dismissal, so the faculty can expect some depositions in their future. She includes media articles and student complaints about racial problems at the school.
The complaint below includes references to Professor Jonathan Cohen’s letter to the faculty discussing such incidents at the school as a point of concern. He is likely to be the first called as a deponent in the case.
Another discrimination case was filed recently against the University of Iowa.
After the posting of this blog entry, both Ms. Russell-Brown and a couple of Florida law students contacted me. One of the students sent this message posted by Dean Jerry to all of the law school student and faculty:
As many of you know, Sherrie Russell-Brown, a former member of the faculty, filed a lawsuit on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The complaint is available on the Internet and has been the subject of discussion in some blogs and online publications during the day. We expect some newspaper coverage of her allegations tomorrow morning.
At this time, I am at liberty to say that the allegations of discrimination in this case are unfounded. We will be responding vigorously to this complaint, and we will provide a copy of our response when we do. There are important facts with bearing on this case that will come out when we submit our response.
I am concerned that baseless allegations in the complaint may be repeated in the media, but I am hopeful that media reports will also cover the seriousness of our commitment to broad diversity, the progress we have made in recruiting a highly qualified and diverse student body, faculty, and staff, and our ongoing efforts to create — and improve where improvements need to be made — a supportive environment for all our students.
Dean Bob Jerry
UPDATE(2): The litigation is reportedly ongoing with changes of counsel and jurisdiction and voluntary dismissal of a prior action.
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