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New discrimination lawsuit filed against Lincoln

by Phillip Sitter | April 23, 2020 at 4:29 a.m. | Updated April 23, 2020 at 12:50 p.m.

Lincoln University's former director of alumni affairs has filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the university, alleging treatment by the person who had filed a separate employment discrimination lawsuit against LU last week.

Sylvia Wilson filed a suit Monday against LU on counts of a hostile work environment on the basis of sex; discrimination based on sex, age and race; and retaliation.

LU spokeswoman Misty Young told the News Tribune the university does not comment on pending litigation.

Last week, Earl Wheatfall filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging disability discrimination, retaliation, Family and Medical Leave Act interference and FMLA retaliation.

Wheatfall alleged his wife's disability - he had requested leave to help care for her - was a motivating factor in LU's decision to fire him in February 2019 without a stated reason, and the university had failed to enforce policies and properly train staff to prevent that kind of discrimination and violations of FMLA.

Wheatfall said he was hired by LU as interim executive director of philanthropy and the Lincoln University Foundation in summer 2017.

Wilson said in her petition for damages that in 2013, she was promoted to be director of alumni affairs within the same university office of philanthropy.

She said Wheatfall became her supervisor upon becoming interim director in 2017.

Wilson alleges Wheatfall sexually harassed her in 2016 in her office during an alumni event, and once he became her supervisor he "regularly engaged in sexually discriminatory behavior directed towards (her) and other females in the office by showing favoritism towards males and acting in a generally condescending manner towards females."

Wilson, 61, who is African American, also alleges Wheatfall favored younger and white employees for filling positions, and "white employees in the philanthropy office were given additional resources to complete their jobs, while black employees in the office had budgets stripped and resources removed."

Wilson said she took her concerns about the environment in the office to the university's then-human resources director, Jim Marcantonio, in early 2018 after LU's then-interim President Mike Middleton and Chief of Staff Carlos Graham allegedly did not take her concerns seriously.

She said Marcantonio dismissed her complaint, and she did not pursue her grievances further at the time because of LU's change of administrative leadership.

Current LU President Jerald Jones Woolfolk became leader of the university June 1, 2018.

Wilson said when Woolfolk in August 2018 named her to a committee tasked with finding a permanent replacement for Wheatfall's position, Wheatfall's behavior afterward prompted her to submit another grievance to Marcantonio, who allegedly "indicated that there was nothing he could do to prevent the behavior."

Marcantonio, who is white, also has an employment discrimination lawsuit against LU, which he filed in January 2019.

His suit alleges he was "constructively discharged" because he pointed out to the university alleged discriminatory practices, including pay raises and reassignments to director-level positions that allegedly favored black employees over white employees in the same types of positions. Marcantonio also alleges he was not given certain pay raises.

After approaching Marcantonio with a complaint for a second time, Wilson alleges Wheatfall then began to remove job duties from her until she was "terminated without warning" Nov. 6, 2018.

Wheatfall in his suit alleges the university told him Dec. 18, 2018, someone else would be hired for his position on or about Jan. 1, 2019, and he would be reassigned through June 30, 2019, to be director of alumni affairs.

Instead, Wheatfall said he was reassigned Jan. 7, 2019, to the position of special assistant to the interim vice president for institutional advancement and alumni relations, in which he was supervised by the executive director of philanthropy and the LU Foundation.

When asked about Wilson's allegations against her client, the Kansas City attorney representing Wheatfall in his employment discrimination suit against LU said the firm "has a policy to not comment on any pending litigation."

Wheatfall is not a defendant in Wilson's lawsuit.

Wilson is seeking for a jury to award her compensatory and punitive damages, as well as possible reinstatement to her job or front pay, and payment for costs and attorney's fees.

Her lawsuit is the fifth active discrimination suit against the university.

In addition to Wheatfall and Marcantonio's suits, Sheila Gassner, LU's former facilities director, who is white, filed a lawsuit in May 2019 alleging university administrators discriminated against her because of her race, including an alleged unequal salary and job demands.

Theresa Smith, a former administrative assistant and instructor at LU, who is black, filed a lawsuit in July 2017 alleging the university filed a counterclaim of fraud against her in retaliation for a previous racial discrimination lawsuit she filed in 2011.


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