A teacher formerly employed by Harris Stowe State University has been awarded $4.85 million by a St. Louis City Circuit Court jury in her race discrimination lawsuit against the university.
According to her Petition, Beverly Wilkins, Caucasian, started working for Harris Stowe in 2001 in its teacher education department. In 2007, Harris Stowe hired Latisha Smith as a faculty member. Ms. Smith, African-American, received a promotion after only one year to Assistant Dean, and another promotion the next year to Co-Chair of the College of Education. In 2009, Ms. Smith was promoted again to Dean of the College of Education, where she became Ms. Wilkins’ supervisor.
In June 2010, Harris Stowe notified Ms. Wilkins that her employment would be ending July 31, 2010, allegedly due to cuts in state funding. According to Ms. Wilkins, Harris Stowe did not follow its own reduction in force policy when it skipped over several full time faculty members, who were African-American, and terminated her instead. In addition, according to Ms. Wilkins, Harris Stowe failed to renew the employment of another Caucasian faculty member in 2010. Harris Stowe then hired two faculty members for the 2010-11 term who were African-American, one of whom was paid more than Ms. Wilkins to teach the same courses she had been scheduled to teach.
In her lawsuit, Ms. Wilkins alleged Harris Stowe and three individual defendants discriminated against her because of her race and retaliated against her for complaining about the discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act. After a jury trial, on October 30, 2015, Ms. Wilkins was awarded $1.35 million in lost wages and emotional distress damages and an additional $3.5 million in punitive damages. Ms. Wilkins’ attorneys are expected to file a motion for their attorneys’ fees in the coming weeks.
The results of this case once again highlight the importance of following your company’s policies and procedures, adhering to the premise of equal employment opportunity, and making employment decisions without considering an individual’s race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin, or any other factor whose consideration is prohibited by law. Further, this case is further proof that review by a third party of significant employment decisions is highly effective in minimizing potential liability.
The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters for 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.