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Why I’m suing the University of Colorado

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My attorney has just filed a lawsuit in federal court against the University of Colorado and the dean of its law school.  I have taught at the law school for the past 33 years.

This is of course an extremely unpleasant thing to do.  Nevertheless, the alternative was to allow the institution to continue to mistreat me in ways that have been getting more egregious all the time.

A quick summary of why we’re suing:

  • In May of last year, I received a very low annual evaluation grade – on that put me in the bottom 2% of the faculty historically – from a faculty peer evaluation committee, despite having had by all conventional metrics an outstanding year in terms of both publishing and service (I could not be evaluated in terms of teaching because I was on parental leave during one semester, and a sabbatical during the other).
  • I asked the law school’s dean, Lolita Buckner Inniss, to refuse to accept the committee’s grade, given its lack of any rational basis.  She flatly refused to review the committee’s decision, even though such a review is a core aspect of her job, which she is required to perform per the law school’s own rules.
  • When asked by me, the committee refused to give me any explanation for the grade.  The dean then continued to refuse to make any independent evaluation of the recommendation.  I then indicated to her that I might need to assert my rights in a more formal way, at which point she told me she was “not afraid of litigation.”
  • A few days after the law school received a letter from my attorney, requesting that documents be preserved for the purposes of potential litigation, the dean sent me an email telling me she was stripping me of a valuable committee assignment, that I had worked hard to obtain and keep, because I had complained about being discriminated against by the law school.  Short of literally typing out “I am retaliating against you because you are complaining about discrimination,” this email was as close to a perfect illustration of illegal retaliation as it’s possible to imagine.
  • Three months later, the law school’s administration stripped me of the Property course I was already scheduled to teach in the Spring semester.  The reason I was given was that I had made “racially insensitive” and “gender biased” remarks in my Property course the previous spring.  I was given no examples of any such remarks, nor allowed to address these accusations before I was stripped the class.  The University of Colorado’s own rules prohibit a full-time faculty member to be stripped of a class in this way: Those rules specify a formal process that must be followed when a faculty member is subjected to such accusations.  The law school’s administration simply ignored this required process.
  • My attorney pointed out to the law school that we were in possession of complete recordings of all of my Property classes from the previous spring, and that a review of them revealed how utterly without basis the claim that I had made racist or sexist remarks in class was.  As of this date, ten months later, the law school has still not produced a shred of evidence that I made such remarks, because there is none.
  • The university’s own analysis in 2021 concluded that I was being subjected to ethnic discrimination in regard to my compensation, which led to a five-figure increase in my salary (I was unaware of this analysis at the time it was taking place.)  However, that analysis left out a key form of compensation, specifically the money from endowed professorships, which every single member of the University of Colorado Law School faculty with anything close to my level of seniority receives, except for me, the sole senior Latino member of the faculty.
  • The law school’s and the university’s only plausible defense for its discriminatory treatment is that they’re not discriminating against me on the basis of my ethnicity, or because I took parental leave, but rather because I’m a longstanding internal critic of the law school’s reckless financial practices – practices which have been enabled by the negligence of the central university administration.  These practices have become so extreme that, at present, more than half of the law school’s operating budget comes from the rest of the university.  This is a nearly unprecedented situation for an American law school.  The situation is going to be much worse this coming academic year, because in an act of supreme irresponsibility the law school has just hired ten new full time faculty members – more than double the highest number ever previously hired in a single year by the school.  The effect of this hiring binge will be slightly ameliorated by the departure of three of our most talented mid-level and junior faculty members.  I know that in at least two of those three cases, the departures were in part due to the faculty members’ concerns about the gathering fiscal disaster that is the University of Colorado Law School’s current operating budget.  
  • Having engaged in the most egregious sort of illegal retaliation, the law school and the university are going to be liable for, at a minimum, at least six figures worth of legal fees, should this case come to trial.  (Under federal law, whether the underlying discrimination claim is ultimately vindicated is irrelevant to the employer’s liability for retaliating against the complaining employee.  Such illegal retaliation requires the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s costs).

When given a final chance this week to avoid all this by entering into mediation, the university didn’t even bother to respond to our request to do so.

So here we – and they – are.

What most strikes me about this situation is the combination of maliciousness and incompetence on display.  A situation which could have been avoided at essentially no cost if the dean had simply done her job – a task that in this instance would have taken up perhaps half an hour of her time – has been blown up into a literal federal case because she couldn’t be bothered to do it.  And this pattern has been repeated by the central administrators and university lawyers who have chosen to let things get this far.

The explanation for this level of incompetence is pretty straightforward: None of these people have their own skin in the game.  It’s somebody else’s money that’s being squandered here, so they just don’t care.  This also explains why the law school’s budget is such a disaster. Nothing is easier than spending other peoples’ money – at least until it finally runs out.  That indeed will be the story of higher education in America over the next couple of decades, as I’ve been pointing out in various places for quite a while now, which I understand is why I’m so popular with my colleagues and supervisors.

But at some point years of petty discrimination and harassment will finally go too far, and for me that point is now.

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