Penn State, Professor Settle Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

Penn State and a former professor who accused the university of racial discrimination have settled a federal lawsuit, according to documents filed this week in the US Middle District Court of Pennsylvania.

The terms of the settlement between the university and Errol Henderson, who was an associate professor of political science at Penn State for more than 20 years, were not disclosed. Henderson left the university in late December “to pursue other opportunities,” said Penn State University spokeswoman Lisa Powers.

Henderson, who is black, filed the lawsuit in 2021who claims that in response to his complaints about racism at Penn State, he was disciplined and denied a promotion to full professor.

Attorney Stephen Console wrote that as early as 2010, Henderson “formally complained about Penn State’s anti-racial work environment and poor engagement with individuals like himself who raise concerns about diversity, inclusion and discrimination.”

Henderson said he raised issues with Penn State’s failure to recruit black students and faculty, as well as “unprofessional and biased” comments from other faculty members and administrators, but no action was taken. A department head reportedly told Henderson she would not recommend him for employment because of “alleged deficiencies in [his] Teaching Skills and Achievement” and refused to provide funding for his two most recent books, Henderson said were retaliatory actions for raising grievances.

In January 2019, Henderson wrote a comment published in the Daily Collegian titled “Being Black at Penn State,” in which he recounts discriminatory experiences he had while at Penn State.

After its release, Console wrote, Henderson was informed by Penn State’s Affirmative Action Office that “certain white colleagues had complained that he had created an anti-racial work environment for them.” He later received a formal disciplinary letter accusing him of violating the university’s policies on discrimination and harassment after an investigation found he had approached certain members of the political science department at meetings and other forums when he addressed issues “relating to perceived racist acts and practices”. ”

As a result, according to the lawsuit, he was banned from teaching for the 2019-20 academic year, required to attend remedial courses and was barred from department meetings and committee services for two years.

Henderson also had a problem with a June 2020 Letter from Eric Barron, President of the State of Penn to the community, in which Barron wrote about concerns about racism in the university community and a commitment to making changes. Barron then announced a series of initiatives to combat racism.

The concerns and actions in response reflected what Henderson had expressed for years, Console wrote.

“Instead of Dr. In support of Henderson’s forward-thinking views now championed by the institution, Penn State disciplined him, found him guilty of creating an anti-racial work environment, and effectively benched him for two years and stifled his ability to move into an executive position at Penn State ‘ wrote Console.

In an amended complaint filed last April, Henderson — the university’s first and only tenured black political science professor until the fall of 2019 — claimed that institutional racism at Penn State “has resulted in an embarrassing lack of diversity within the university [political science] departmental faculty and their students.”

“Unfortunately, the experiences of Dr. Henderson at Penn State – including hostile treatment based on his race and his racial discrimination complaints,
being denied a promotion and being falsely accused of creating a hostile work environment — did not occur in a vacuum,” Console wrote. “Penn State’s discriminatory and retaliatory actions against him are a symptom of the cancer of racism that is rampant at Penn State, as evidenced by the overwhelming data collected from black professors who simply want fair treatment on campus. “

University attorney Sarah Bouchard, in a response to the complaint filed last June, wrote that any action taken against Henderson was not discriminatory or retaliatory. They were, she wrote, “based on good faith factors and justified by legitimate business reasons unrelated to the plaintiff’s race, color or alleged discrimination complaints.”

“Penn State is committed to creating an inclusive, diverse and respectful environment for the thousands of faculty, staff and students in its community,” wrote Bouchard. “Increasing diversity and maintaining an environment of inclusion and respect are key to Penn State’s ability to realize its values ​​and provide the best possible educational and work environment for its community. Penn State recognizes the importance of diversity and inclusion and encourages members of its community, including Plaintiff, to speak out and participate in productive discussions that help Penn State advance these priorities.”

According to the joint termination agreement filed on Monday, a “full agreement” was reached after private mediation in December. US District Judge Matthew Brann on Tuesday officially ordered the case to be dropped.

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