Posted on July 30, 2019

Historically Black Tuskegee University Sued by White Professor for Age, Racial Discrimination

Olivia Messer, Daily Beast, July 24, 2019

A 73-year-old white physics professor at Alabama’s Tuskegee University is suing the historically black college for what he says is age and racial discrimination.

Marshall Burns’ 12-page lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, contends his salary is 30 to 50 percent lower than that of Tuskegee’s younger professors despite his more than four decades of tenure at the private university.

The physics scholar began working at Tuskegee as an assistant professor in 1976, according to the lawsuit, and was promoted to full professor in 1980. Burns published a textbook that was recognized by the state legislature and was named Teacher of the Year in 1989, the complaint claims.

That same year, Burns’ lawsuit claims that when the school was seeking more money from the legislature, it was his “level of scholarship, and his white race, [that] helped Tuskegee University succeed in obtaining additional funding from more conservative legislators.”


Despite Burns’ purported accomplishments — and 12 verbal and written requests for a raise — the scholar’s current salary of $60,500 is equivalent to associate professor salaries, and younger full professors are making between $78,000 and $90,000, his lawsuit alleges. He initially filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in November 2018.

The university has “discriminated against [Burns] due to his age by continually denying justified requests for salary adjustments and by paying [Burns] less than younger, less qualified professors,” his lawsuit states.

“Notwithstanding Dr. Burns’ significant contributions to Tuskegee University, and his stellar help in getting it more money, Tuskegee has ungratefully kept [Burns] at an associate level of pay for his entire academic career,” the complaint claims.


Burns also clarified to The Daily Beast that he had never “felt any racial discrimination on campus” and has been treated “with respect,” but that “something has to be going on, to be totally ignored on this issue.”