Florida Law Professor Sues for Discrimination

6a00d8341c4eab53ef011168516c81970c-120wi 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.photo

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.

For the full story, click here.

14 thoughts on “Florida Law Professor Sues for Discrimination”

  1. I can’t comment on most of these things, but Professor Gulasekaram’s listing online shows his nickname as “Deep”, so I’m thinking maybe that was something that sounded racist that was not? I have heard several East Asians use the nickname “Deepak”, so it’s certainly not a racial slur or anything of that sort.

  2. Evidently, emails recently released at the UF college of law reveal that the pushing and snubbing incident described by Professor Russell-Brown as part of of allegations of racial discrimination involved no white professors if, indeed, it occurred at all.

  3. It wouldn’t be the first time that an administration of a school has purposely discriminated against a teacher. That being said, the lawsuit will flesh out the truth. Roscoe is correct that Prof. Cohen would be high on the deposition list.

  4. Reading the complaint carefully raises some red flags. Sometimes she identifies the race and gender of those guilty of bad behavior. Sometimes it just says “male” or female. Are we to assume the assailant was a white male. If so, would she or her attorney have missed a chance to say it? I doubt it. After all, the case is about race. Other red flags are the disconnect between the events and her race.

    I good friend of mine at Florida tells me that the faculty voted overwhelmingly to promote Professor Russell-Brown as it has other minorities. Thus, the racism seems to be something that started only recently. If so, did Florida hire several new people who are racists? That too seems unlikely.

    She also confirms that Florida is a hard place to work but not because of racism.

    I too would put Professor Cohen at the top of my list of people to depose — particular if I were representing the defendants. Sounds to me like a sanctimonious grandstander unless he is unwilling to name names, events, and dates.

  5. Ivy said:

    Sadly, being well educated does not scrub the racist and the bigot out of some people.

    Personally, this fact persists as one of the hardest of humankinds’ conundrums to fathom.

  6. Sadly, being well educated does not scrub the racist and the bigot out of some people. I hope if she has a case she is able to prove it and the University cleans up its act.

  7. As a former student at the UF College of Law who had Ms. Russell-Brown for Torts, I can tell you that if you’re into salacious details of academic faculty then you should get your popcorn ready. Much of the faculty genuinely does not like one another and they are pretty scandalized already, seeing as the former Dean Patrick Shannon mentioned in the complaint resigned after allegations of belonging to a child pornography ring. This is going to be great…

  8. Some people don’t want to hire a lawyer of any make or model. But that’s not racism. That’s just a plan for a happier life.

  9. cherui
    1, February 9, 2009 at 11:46 am
    And you wonder why people don’t want to hire black female lawyers…..

    I’m not aware of anyone deliberately NOT wanting to hire black female lawyers and I’ve never wondered about it. What’s your point?

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