Sheila Gassner, now 55, said in a recent, 36-page lawsuit that Lincoln University administrators discriminated against her because she is Caucasian and that she was "constructively discharged" as of July 31, 2018.
After she received a "right-to-sue" letter from the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in March, Gassner's attorneys — Roger Brown, of Jefferson City, and William C. Hopkins, of Kansas City — filed the suit May 31 then filed supporting documents last Thursday.
LU spokeswoman Misty Young said Monday the university "cannot comment on pending litigation."
The lawsuit said Gassner's "condition of employment included the disparate and unequal salary that was provided to her along with the number of duties and responsibilities thrust upon her, the hours demanded of her to perform those duties and the expertise required."
Gassner's suit noted she began at Lincoln on March 20, 1989, as the research facilities coordinator, and was promoted to design and construction director July 1, 2000, while David B. Henson was LU's president.
In November 2013, Gassner's suit said, then-President Kevin Rome promoted her to be the executive director of facilities and planning and added the duties of the recently discharged building and grounds director to her job description — including 40 additional employees to supervise — with a one-time, 1.8 percent salary increase but no "commensurate raise."
When her request for a bigger raise was denied, and she said she didn't want to take the new position, the lawsuit said Gassner was told "that she did not have that option," She was provided with a letter from Rome that said "if she did not agree to her newly assigned duties at the described rate of pay she would be terminated" Dec. 23, 2013.
Because of her family situation, including child with special needs, Gassner said, she could "not afford to be terminated."
The lawsuit said Rome and then-chief of staff Jerome Offord told her "that the budget for LU could not afford an increase" in Gassner's salary, but a number of other Lincoln employees, who were African Americans working in the administration, were given salary increases ranging from 7.6 percent to 25 percent.
In another section of lawsuit, Gassner argued: "During (her) employment and particularly during Dr. Rome's presidency, and as it continued under Interim President (Michael) Middleton's term and (current) President (Jerald Jones) Woolfolk's term, numerous African-American employees were hired, given substantially less duties but provided significant pay as compared to those duties and responsibilities given to (Gassner)."
The lawsuit named a dozen people who were hired and/or given new positions and raises, while Gassner received only the cost-of-living increases all LU employees received.
"Lincoln University, through its president and chief of staff, knew of (Gassner's) intolerable working conditions and that the terms and conditions of (her) employment with Lincoln University were of such a nature to be discriminatory in terms of her pay and the duties and responsibilities assigned to her," the lawsuit said.
Woolfolk became LU's 20th president June 1, 2018, and Gassner met with her 12 days later.
The lawsuit said Gassner detailed the situation to the new president, including information "that would have clearly indicated and disclosed that (Gassner) was being treated differently and adversely as compared to African-American employees, and race was both a contributing and motivating factor in the discriminatory conduct and the creation of (Gassner's) adverse working conditions."
But, the lawsuit argued, Woolfolk "failed to alleviate the adverse conditions imposed by (Lincoln University) upon (Gassner)."
Adding to its claims of "race animus," the lawsuit argued white administrators have sustained multiple incidents of race-based discrimination and decision making during the course of the last three presidencies — Carolyn Mahoney, Rome and Woolfolk.
The suit then named several former Caucasian LU administrators who had been discriminated against, including:
Annette Digby, a former provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, who was hired by Mahoney and "after four years of stellar performance, was given the option to resign or be fired."
Digby sued Lincoln in August 2012, and her first trial in June 2016 ended in a mistrial because of a deadlocked jury.
Her second trial was to be this August, but the parties settled late last year. The attorney general's legal expense fund shows the state paid a total of $350,000 — $162,409.30 to Digby and $187,590.70 to Roger Brown.
James Marcantonio, Lincoln's longtime human resources director, who left LU last Oct. 31 and sued in January. His case has not yet been set for a trial.
In her three-count lawsuit, Gassner seeks "fair and reasonable actual damages both economic and non-economic;" punitive damages "in an amount that will properly punish the defendant Lincoln University for their bad acts;" attorney's fees; costs; post-judgment interest; and "any/all other further relief as the court deems just and proper."
"As a member of the president's cabinet," the lawsuit explained, Gassner "was expected to perform at an even higher level of performance, including attending all cabinet meetings, after-hours events (and) representing the university at various functions and activities.
"This required even more time in the performance of her job duties and created substantial amounts of time away from her family — all without the requisite and commensurate increase to her salary."