Texas Southern Fails in Bid to Stop Discrimination Suit

Eric Freedman, Diverse Education, November 19, 2012

A White assistant dean at Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law can pursue her Title VII employment discrimination and retaliation claims, a federal judge in Houston has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison rejected the university’s bid to throw out the suit by Patricia Garrison, an alumna of the law school who was appointed assistant dean for academic support in 2007.

Garrison still holds the position, but her lawyer, Katherine Butler of Houston, said, “It becomes increasingly difficult. Nobody wants to be in the position of suing their employer.”

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Garrison had received strong performance reviews by Dean McKen Carrington, who hired her, but the suit contends that current Dean Dannye Holley began a racially motivated campaign to force her out after his interim appointment in 2009. Holley was a longtime TSU faculty member, and Garrison had been one of his students.

“Texas Southern University treated one of the hardest working employees in its law school poorly for one reason and one reason only—she is Caucasian,” Garrison’s court complaint says. “It denied this woman compensation she earned, stripped her of job duties she was performing well and steadfastly put up roadblocks in an attempt to make her life so difficult that she would resign.”

After Holley rejected Garrison’s attempt to hold an underperforming Black subordinate accountable, he told her, “If you do not wish to work for me, you have options, and I suggest you begin to consider them,” the complaint says.

The university denies any discrimination and asserts in court papers that all its actions regarding Garrison’s “employment status and working conditions were the result of legitimate, non-discriminatory business decisions.”

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The complaint alleges that Holley has micromanaged her duties, undercut her authority over subordinate employees and denied her the support and resources that African-American assistant and associate deans have. It also alleges that the law school refused to pay a promised $5,000 to teach a semester-long bar exam essay course although she’d previously been paid to teach it beyond her regular duties.

The university counters that the teaching payments Garrison received were a discretionary bonus under the prior dean and that Holley chose to discontinue that practice.

In his decision, Ellison said there are several factual issues for a jury to decide at trial. For example, there was evidence that Black full-time administrators continue to receive extra compensation for teaching.

He also said a jury could decide that race was a motivating factor in Holley’s reducing Garrison’s responsibilities—and thus demoting her—although her salary wasn’t cut.

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