Tuesday, November 3, 2015

No Illegal Discrimination By University Toward Fired Asian Professor, Court Finds

A Taiwanese professor who was fired for the way she interacted with students did not provide enough evidence that her university illegally discriminated against her, a court recently held. Ya-Chen Chen taught Chinese at the City University of New York, where her colleagues complained about her “overaggressiveness and lack of tact.” One of her supervisors wrote that she “made clear that she does not have time in her schedule for students who require more attention than she is willing to provide, even if they seek that time during her office hours.” She also “spent hours refusing to accept responsibility for her own actions,” according to the supervisor.

As a result of Chen’s negative reviews, the University decided not to renew her contract. Chen sued, claiming that the University discriminated against her because she was “a non-white, junior and foreign woman.” She claimed that this discrimination violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids an employer from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on their race, religion, gender, national origin, language, and maybe even sexual orientation

The court found that the professor could not prove that the University failed to rehire her because of her race. The court ruled that the evidence showed that her colleagues complained about the way she interacted with students long before her complaints of racial discrimination. There was no evidence, according to the court, that university officials were not being honest when they said that she was not rehired because of the way she interacted with students. 

The university was ultimately able to prevail in this lawsuit because it had documents supporting its claims. The university kept reports discussing the professor’s problems with students, and was able to use these to prove that these problems were the reason for the professor’s firing. As we have discussed, we suggest that employers keep a file on each employee that contains, among other things, employee evaluations and complaints lodged against the employee. However, employers in Illinois must be sure that they allow employees to review this file if they ask to do so. 

There was disagreement between the judges who decided this case over whether the professor provided enough evidence to prove that the University violated a New York state law prohibiting racial discrimination. Employers should be aware that in addition to Title VII, which is a federal law, many states also have laws prohibiting discrimination. These laws usually provide protections that Title VII does not.

For example, many state anti-discrimination laws, including the law in Illinois, prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Others, like the law in New York, make it easier for a plaintiff to prove discrimination or provide increased monetary awards for proving discrimination. Employers should be knowledgeable about these state laws and be sure that they are not violating them. We suggest consulting an attorney for information regarding the employment discrimination laws that affect your employees.