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Former HR director files discrimination suit against Lincoln University

Former HR director files discrimination suit against Lincoln University

January 26th, 2019 by Bob Watson in Local News

A view of Lincoln University's campus is seen here from the dome of the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Jim Marcantonio served 18 years as Lincoln University's Human Resources director but said in a 14-page lawsuit filed Friday that he was a victim of discrimination by the Jefferson City school.

Misty Young, LU's spokeswoman, told the News Tribune the school did "not have a comment on pending litigation."

Marcantonio's suit names the Board of Curators as the main defendants, and said LU "engaged in unlawful discriminatory practices in violation of" both the Missouri Human Rights Act and provisions of the state's "whistleblower" law prohibiting discipline of public officers and employees who report state agency "mismanagement or violations."

He said he filed the suit within 90 days of his receiving a right-to-sue letter from the Missouri Human Rights Commission on Oct. 31, 2018 — the same day he alleges he was "constructively discharged" by Lincoln.

And, the lawsuit says, Marcantonio — who is 63 and a Caucasian man — is filing a second discrimination charge with the Human Rights Commission and will amend the lawsuit once he receives another right-to-sue notice.

Marcantonio's suit doesn't name specific dollar amounts, but for each of the suit's three counts, he asks for "his fair and reasonable actual damages, for punitive damages, for reasonable attorneys' fees, for his costs, and for such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper."

He's represented by Martin Meyers and Leonard Stephens, of Kansas City, and Randall Barnes, of Jefferson City.

Among his complaints, Marcantonio says he was designated as LU's Title IX coordinator in 2009 but wasn't given a pay increase "for this increase in responsibility," even though he asked for one.

He also wasn't given a raise for serving as LU's affirmative action officer, he said.

Marcantonio argued, after Kevin Rome became LU's president in 2013, "African American employees were given pay raises and reassignments to director level positions (while) Caucasian director level employees did not receive comparable pay increases or reassignments."

Throughout the lawsuit, when many individuals are identified by name, the lawsuit also notes their race and approximate age.

When Rome hired Joseph Watkins ("African American male, mid-20s") in August 2015 to be the president's chief of staff, Marcantonio's lawsuit says, "Watkins became the supervisor for three departments, including the Human Resources Department, despite having little experience as an administrator."

But, the lawsuit argues, when Marcantonio "informed the administration of potentially illegal discriminatory practices occurring at Lincoln University Rome took away and reassigned (Marcantonio's) responsibilities as Affirmative Action Officer."

In 2016, Rome hired Rolondus Rice "(African American male, late-20s) for the position of Diversity Officer, which included the Affirmative Action Officer responsibilities (for a) salary of $75,000, but Plaintiff had been performing (those) responsibilities without compensation."

Marcantonio also alleged, "Rice had no background in employment law, repeatedly violated university policies (if not the law) in his guidance and hiring practices, and openly expressed his belief that white employees were adversely impacting the hiring of black faculty and stated there were too many white employees at Lincoln University."

Also during Rome's presidency, Marcantonio charged, the person working as an associate in Human Resources was terminated, creating an opening that wasn't filled permanently until after Marcantonio left last fall.

The lawsuit said he was given approval to hire someone for that job in February 2017, but when he recommended hiring an existing LU employee ("Caucasian female, 50") who "had a Human Resources degree," Watkins said he would not authorize that hire and told Marcantonio "to hire someone from outside the university that is younger; he needed to recruit someone right out of college."

Marcantonio said that "would be an illegal, discriminatory act."

When Watkins later said that vacant position "had been eliminated due to budget constraints," the lawsuit notes — budget problems "had not prevented other departments' employees from receiving raises and/or having position reassignments."

Meanwhile, the lawsuit says, Marcantonio and two other HR department employees had to do their own jobs and the work of the vacant position and, when "all three of the HR staff filed age discrimination, harassment, and retaliation complaints regarding the elimination of the HR Associate position, Lincoln University's internal complaint investigators recommended that the position be restored and that the HR employees be compensated for taking on additional responsibilities."

LU "refused to comply" with those recommendations, the lawsuit says — even after Middleton, and then Woolfolk, took over the president's duties.

The suit notes Middleton authorized "a half-time employee until the end of the fiscal year (but that) did not fully solve the underlying problem."

And, the lawsuit says, Watkins gave Marcantonio "very low marks" in a performance review, which were "the first time that any alleged performance issues were brought to (Marcantonio's) attention."

The lawsuit says Watkins "stated during a cabinet meeting that the university had too many white employees over the age of 55."

When Woolfolk became LU's president on June 1, the lawsuit says, she "continued the previous administrations' discriminatory practices," including saying no money was available for that fourth HR position while "new positions were being funded and reassignments were made with significant pay increases."

The lawsuit also says Woolfolk "hired or reassigned younger, African Americans with little experience into director positions and paid them more than (Marcantonio) in violation of Lincoln University's staff compensation policies" — even though Marcantonio reported his concerns.

The lawsuit says Woolfolk used "a hiring exemption" to hire nine African Americans "without requiring an application, interview or selection process" — and when Marcantonio questioned that practice, the suit said, she told him "that the Board of Curators told her she could hire whoever she wanted."

He said his requests for pay adjustments "commensurate with his job duties" were denied, but Lincoln hired a Title IX coordinator "for $50,000 per year even though Plaintiff had been performing these functions for years without compensation."

When LU's legal counsel, Judith Anne Willis "(Caucasian female, 52) was terminated after reporting discriminatory practices," the lawsuit says, Marcantonio was told he would have to do her employment-related duties, even though he isn't an attorney.

"Lincoln University's treatment of Plaintiff caused (his) working conditions to be intolerable," the lawsuit says, so he submitted a resignation letter Sept. 28.

On Oct. 18, the lawsuit reported, Marcantonio "was placed on administrative leave until Oct. 31," when he was "constructively discharged."

After that, he said, LU restored the HR Associate's position, promoted a Caucasian woman, 51, to fill it, and hired an African American woman in her 20s as the new administrative assistant.

The case was assigned to Presiding Circuit Judge Pat Joyce.

No hearings have been scheduled because Lincoln's attorneys first must enter the case and file an answer to Marcantonio's allegations.