IUP business school hit by lawsuits

Five plaintiffs allege civil rights violations

Monday, May 03, 2004 By Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

State System of Higher of Education officials say five civil rights lawsuits filed against Indiana University of Pennsylvania over the past four years is no big deal.

All large institutions will eventually be targeted, they say, especially in today's litigious society. And with 1,700 employees, IUP is no exception.

But the claims have all come from faculty members within IUP's Eberly College of Business, which has 62 professors. Several professors said they wondered how much had to be paid out before something would change.

Two suits alleging gender discrimination within the college have been settled, costing the school more than $415,000.

Three more federal claims pending and at least one complaint is pending at the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Current and former faculty members blame the problems on the atmosphere there, specifically naming Eberly's dean, Robert C. Camp.

They say those who don't side with him can receive bad teaching schedules, as Professor Ata Nahouraii has alleged in his lawsuit, or they can be denied summer work projects, as Mohamed E. Ghobashy says in his. Both men allege discrimination based on national origin; Nahouraii is Iranian, Ghobashy is Egyptian.

"There's a general environmental bias of foreign-born faculty," said Ghobashy, an IUP accounting professor since 1976. "The message is coming down from the administration that nothing is going to change. There's a complete loss of hope."

Camp has been named as a defendant in three cases and referred to in another.

Larry Chaban, a lawyer who represents plaintiffs in civil rights cases in Pittsburgh, said the number of lawsuits was unusual and warranted investigation by IUP or the state system.

"If you can show a pattern over time, you would figure an employer would do something, because that's what the Supreme Court tells them to do," Chaban said. "It's amazing to me he's still working there."

Camp, who led the college of business to international accreditation in 2001, has been the dean for 16 years. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

Hearing at issue
Tim Kelly was hired as a tenure-track professor in the IUP management information systems department in the fall of 2002.

He has a significant hearing problem, stemming from his Navy days working on the flight deck of the USS Inchon LPH-12, an amphibious assault ship, during the Vietnam War.

He copes with it by watching people's body language, reading lips and trying to stay within 20 feet of the person speaking. Despite the impairment, Kelly said, he had taught college classes since 1983 with no problem until his first few months at IUP.

In October 2002, Kelly started using projectors and transparencies to discuss Web sites with his class. But with the lights dimmed, he couldn't read the lips of students in the back.

Kelly informed his department chairwoman, Louise Burky, of his disability, and requested that he be able to ask his students to sit in the front of the classroom.

She refused his request and forbade Kelly even to tell students about his impairment.

According to Kelly, Burky said: "You can't let your students know you have a disability. They'll use it against you."

After months of ignored requests of Burky, Camp and IUP's human resources department, Kelly filed grievances within the university, and then a complaint with the EEOC on March 13, 2003.

He believes that his punishment for filing that complaint was not having his contract renewed for a second year, despite earlier positive recommendations by Burky and the department's tenure committee.

In a March 21 memo about Kelly's "teaching issues," Camp wrote: "His performance in the classroom was really weak last fall. Furthermore, we cannot allow him to use [hearing impairment] as an excuse."

Ten days later, Kelly received a letter from then-President Lawrence Pettit, informing him that he would not be asked to return the next semester.

The president is the ultimate decision-maker in hiring and firing issues.

Other 'targets'
Other former and current professors contend they have been targeted by Camp and his administration.

Faye Bradwick, a tenured accounting professor since 1991, called Camp's leadership a "reign of terror."

Karl B. Lloyd taught in IUP's management information systems department for 31*2 years. He quit in 2001, fearing he would be denied tenure, often a death knell for professors trying to find new jobs.

"The web of abuse of power up there is massive," said Lloyd, who's now teaching at Washington and Jefferson College. "The president for the university has to step up or a legislator must say, 'My God, this has to stop.' "

IUP's acting president, Diane L. Reinhard, refused to comment, as did the Council of Trustees, which oversees university functions.

In its answers to the federal court complaints, the university has denied all the claims against it.

Tom Gluck, director of communications for the State System of Higher Education, said: "With almost 1,700 employees at IUP, and the prevalence of lawsuits and litigation in society in general, it's virtually inevitable that lawsuits and claims will be initiated from time to time by employees in the same manner as you'll find in other institutions and businesses of IUP's size and scope."

Gluck would not discuss the concentration of lawsuits at the business college.

'Glass-ceiling issue'
Pittsburgh lawyer Sam Cordes worked on both of the gender discrimination claims in the business college. Lisa O'Hara was working as a temporary instructor in the technology support and training department when a tenure-track position became available.

Her lawsuit said she applied for it but was told by several people she wouldn't get the job because the leadership planned to hire a man to upgrade the department's image, she said.

Cordes called it a "classic glass-ceiling issue."

O'Hara sued for gender discrimination and retaliation in 2000 and settled her case two years later. In the agreement, she was paid $125,000. She did not get her job back, and IUP did not admit any liability or wrongdoing.

"With public entities, there's this notion there's a huge pot of money, and no one gets fired," Cordes said. "The whole point of both criminal and civil law is to change behavior. It just doesn't seem to work with government agencies."

Cathleen Ray started teaching at IUP's branch campuses in Punxsutawney and Kittanning in 1995.

After the departure of the department chair who was in place when she was hired, her situation began to deteriorate, she said.

"I felt like they were trying to drive me out," she said. "I got reprimanded one time for closing my door."

Finally, she went to the dean. Camp was sympathetic at first, she said, but later told her that the problems were all in her head.

She filed a complaint with IUP's human resources department in April 1999, alleging gender discrimination.

After four years of glowing reviews from her peers and students, as well as earning a schoolwide teaching award, Ray received her first bad evaluation.

"It was retaliation," she said.

IUP denied that claim.

"Her complaint regarding gender discrimination has never had any relationship [to] any evaluation of her performance as an employee of IUP," the school responded in a court filing.

Though the university wide committee recommended tenure, the departmental committee recommended against it, and so, ultimately, did Pettit. Ray, 39, filed a federal lawsuit in the fall of 2000, claiming retaliation.

In it, she asked for damages and to be placed in a tenured faculty position.

That didn't happen. Instead, she settled with the university in October 2003, receiving $290,477.

Job offers withdrawn
Since his dismissal from IUP, Kelly, 51, the hearing-impaired professor, has interviewed for teaching positions across the United States. He got seven job offers, but five of those were withdrawn after his references were checked, he said.

He hopes now to prevail in the lawsuit and possibly get his IUP teaching job back.

Though she got a large sum of money, Ray has been unable to find a new job. She has applied to 12 public school districts and seven colleges with no success.

"I've been absolutely blackballed," Ray said. "Business education is a small field. My name is dirt all over."

Six months after settling her case, her stomach still ties up in knots just talking about it.

"I keep thinking it's going to change," Ray said. "I thought, in the end, someone would be held accountable for what they did to me, and that never happened."