Lincoln lawsuit lingers

Former vice president suing for discrimination

Lawyers for both sides told Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem last week they’re still moving forward on plans to go to trial Sept. 29, on Annette Digby’s claim she was forced out of Lincoln University because she’s Caucasian.

Digby was Lincoln’s vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost, from Aug. 1, 2007-June 10, 2011.

In her eight-page lawsuit, Digby said that “on or about May 31, 2011,” then-LU President Carolyn Mahoney gave Digby “an ultimatum to resign or be fired (and) gave no justification or reasoning for … such ultimatum.”

Noting that no one at LU ever “indicate(d) that her performance was anything but at a high level of quality and production (or) would lead to or be the basis for a discharge or a demand for her to resign,” the lawsuit said Mahoney “had no legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to discharge or demand (Digby) to resign.”

Digby’s lawsuit complains she “was specifically directed to make a decision immediately to either resign or be fired (and) was not given any time to contemplate her situation or seek advice of counsel or seek advice of others with regard to her decision.”

The suit names Lincoln University, then-President Mahoney and “John Doe” and “Jane Doe.”

Digby’s attorney, Jefferson City lawyer Roger G. Brown, explained in the suit that the Does “are persons whose names are unknown to Plaintiff, but who were actively involved … in discriminating against (Digby) based upon her race and actively pursuing her discharge from her position and employment with Lincoln University.”

Her departure never was announced publicly, although e-mails sent to “the Lincoln University Family” — and provided at the time to the News Tribune by an LU student — announced interim replacements for Digby (on June 2, 2011) and for Mike Kosher, LU’s director for Enrollment Management and Admissions (on June 1).

Neither Digby nor Kosher would comment on their situations in June 2011, nor have they commented about them since then.

After a June 16, 2011, LU Curators meeting where the elimination of other positions was announced, along with cancellation of LU’s long-running “Share In the Arts” concerts program because of tight finances, Mahoney told the News Tribune that Digby’s and Kosher’s departures were not budget-related, but involved personnel issues she declined to discuss.

In Digby’s lawsuit, attorney Brown suggests that both Digby and Kosher were forced out after “African-American alums and other African-Americans expressed to Defendant Mahoney strong concerns and dissatisfactions that a white person was serving in (Digby’s) position and that because she was white she would not be able to perform in that position to their satisfaction.”

Brown argued that Mahoney — who retired from LU’s presidency in August 2012 — “acquiesced and followed the directive and demands of the African-American alums and African-American individuals and gave to (Digby) the ultimatum that she either resign or be fired.”

Mahoney’s successors, Interim President Connie Hamacher and new President Kevin Rome, were not named in the lawsuit.

Jefferson City lawyer Kent Brown represents LU and Mahoney, and wrote in the answer to Digby’s lawsuit that the defendants deny the accusations, and that doing what the lawsuit says LU and Mahoney did would have violated the school’s and board of curators’ policies.

After leaving Lincoln in May 2011, Digby filed a complaint of racial discrimination with the Missouri Human Rights Commission in September 2011.

The following May, the commission gave her what’s called a “right to sue” letter, and Brown filed the lawsuit in August 2012.

A Dec. 11, 2012, docket entry in the case shows that Digby also challenged her dismissal in federal court.

But in January 2013, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey determined that Digby’s claims did not “present a federal (law) question and the parties to this suit are not diverse.”

Laughrey’s judgment was that the federal court “lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this case,” and it was returned to the Cole County circuit court. Brown filed an amended petition on May 28, 2013, making the same allegations as were raised in the original lawsuit nearly ten months earlier.

Last August, Beetem issued a lengthy order setting the case for a five-day trial beginning Sept. 29, with jury selection the previous Friday afternoon.

The attorneys and judge will hold a pre-trial conference Sept. 23. And last Friday, they also agreed to a status conference on Aug. 1 — the day after all discovery activities are to be finished — to determine if the September trial can go ahead as scheduled.

Neither Roger Brown nor Kent Brown responded Friday to an e-mail request for comment.

In the lawsuit, Roger Brown said Digby wants the court to order LU to pay “all lost earnings to-date of a value of at least $175,000 annually, beginning from (May 31, 2011) up to the date of Judgment, all of which would constitute back pay.”

Digby also wants “front pay for five years, calculated at $175,000 for the first year with a 10 percent annual increase thereafter;” attorney’s fees and costs; an award “for humiliation, embarrassment and the effect upon her personal and professional career and earning capacity;” a separate award for “emotional damages;” and an injunction against LU “enjoining it from same and similar conduct here ever after, both as to (Digby) and to others same and similarly situated.”

The lawsuit also asked the court for an injunction “against any of those specific (unnamed) individuals from participating in any way and in such a fashion to influence policy or decision-making of the University.”

Brown suggested the relief could include the court “ordering the dismantling of such organizations which in any way demonstrate that they have influenced or caused Lincoln University policies or decision making to be made, which is either based upon race, gender or other discriminatory basis.”

Case.net, the Missouri court system’s online docket reporting site, shows no state litigation on Kosher’s behalf.

Since July 2, 2012, Digby has been vice president for Academic Affairs at Stephens College, Columbia.

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