Michael S. Powers

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Harris Stowe Again Hit By Multi-Million Dollar Discrimination Verdict

Just one month after a jury awarded a former Harris Stowe professor nearly $5 million on claims of racial discrimination, the University has again been hit by a very large discrimination verdict, this time for $2.5 million.  The more recent case involved charges of discrimination and retaliation filed by Shereen Abdel Kader, a former professor at the University.  Ms. Kader is an Egyptian Muslim.  She alleged that the University, through its administrators, discriminated against her because of her national origin and her race, and that it retaliated against her.  Jurors found for Ms. Kader on her claims of national origin discrimination and retaliation, but denied her claims of racial discrimination.

Ms. Kader’s lawsuit alleged that LaTisha Smith, the former dean of the Harris Stowe College of Education, was the party mainly responsible for the discrimination.  Ms. Kader was hired by Harris Stowe in 2007, while working towards her doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania.  As a condition of her hire, Harris Stowe agreed to apply for a work visa for Ms. Kader.  As an Egyptian citizen Kader required a visa in order for her to legally remain in the United States.  Ms. Kader initially applied for and obtained an extension of her then-current visa through May of 2010, in order to give the University time to file the necessary paperwork.

Kader’s Petition alleged that after she began working for Harris Stowe, while attending a conference together, Ms. Smith told her that she would never advance at the University because she was “not in the group.”  Some time later, in 2010, she received a poor performance review.  When asked, Smith attributed the poor evaluation to critical reviews from students.  However, Kader alleged that when she asked to see those reviews Smith grew hostile towards her.  From that point onward Smith is alleged to have actively worked towards Kader’s termination.  Eventually Kader went to the University’s administration and accused Smith of discriminating against her.

Kader alleged that throughout this time she repeatedly inquired as to the progress of her visa application.  The University, she said, either dodged the question or assured her that it would be completed in time.  Kader alleges that these assurances were false, and that after she accused Smith the University told her that the necessary paperwork had been lost.  As a result, her visa request was denied by United States immigration services.  Allegedly that department had made repeated requests to the University for the paperwork, who reportedly ignored the requests.  After her visa request was denied the University used that denial as grounds not to renew Kader’s contract.

While the University denied all allegations, the jury ultimately found on behalf of Kader for two of her three claims.  They awarded her $750,000 in lost wages and compensatory damages.  The jury also awarded $1.75 million in punitive damages.  Harris Stowe has since issued a further “vehement” denial all allegations of wrongdoing and has stated that it plans to appeal this verdict.

This follows close on the heels of the even larger verdict against the University obtained by Ms. Beverly Wilkins in early November, as previously reported here.  In that case, jurors returned a $4.85 million verdict on Ms. Wilkins’ claims that she was discriminated against as a part of the Harris Stowe Education Department’s intentional purge of its white faculty.  Interestingly, Ms. Wilkins’ allegations also centered on Ms. Smith, accusing her of subscribing to a “Black Power” philosophy and attempting to advance only African American faculty.  The two verdicts together mean that Harris Stowe has been on the losing end of $7.35 million in jury verdicts in the span of approximately six weeks.  Harris Stowe has announced its intentions to appeal these verdicts.

The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters, including all aspects of discrimination and retaliation litigation, for nearly sixty years, and are available to discuss these issues and others.  As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

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