Three weeks after she began her job as UNC system president, Margaret Spellings approved with her signature an agreement sending $50,000 in state taxpayers’ money to Marianne Murphy, a former tenured professor at NCCU.
Murphy had sued NCCU in federal court and filed a complaint with the N.C. Industrial Commission (NCIC) alleging a repeated and blatant pattern of unlawful discrimination and adverse employment actions, including retaliation “due to her race.”
Murphy is Caucasian.
One hundred days later on the last day of June, records show Spellings also signed a second settlement for $10,000 to dismiss litigation filed by another ex-NCCU employee, a high-ranking man who is also Caucasian.
Francis Marion Smith, a former director of graduate, professional and executive programs in NCCU’s School of Business, claimed he suffered physical and emotional distress due to unlawful discrimination and was ultimately terminated from his $125,000 a year job because of his race.
Smith, who is Caucasian, claimed in an affidavit that his boss, an interim dean, “made my working conditions intolerable.”
According to records obtained from the N.C. Attorney General’s office, this brings to four the number of settlement agreements executed in the last year, for a total of 309,000 in payouts, involving alleged racial discrimination and retaliation against NCCU employees that the plaintiffs’ attorneys at the Noble Law Firm term “non-African-American.”
The case with the highest payout involved Kimberly Luse, a former chief of staff to NCCU Chancellor Deborah Saunders-White, who was given $175,000 as part of a September 2015 settlement.
Luse’s original claim in Durham County Superior Court individually named the chancellor (currently on leave because because of serious illness) as one of the defendants.
Luse alleged a university work environment that included denigrating and outrageous comments. She claimed the chancellor violated employment laws “based upon her own personal animus towards non-African American individuals.”
Also in September 2015, former business school assistant dean Laura Demarse settled a federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission case against NCCU and the Board of Governors for $74,000.
Demarse is now an assistant dean in the graduate school at N.C. State, after being hired by NCSU in early 2016 as director of postdoctoral affairs.
The settlement documents include clauses that provide:
▪ no admissions of wrongdoing
▪ voluntary dismissal of claims
▪ the former employees agreeing to no future employment with NCCU or the UNC General Administration. Luse also agreed to never work again for a UNC system constituent institution
▪ that there be no disparagement in connection with the cases
▪ confidentiality prohibiting the plaintiffs from publicizing the settlements and their specifics
I asked a top NCCU official why, after numerous strong denials including from Chancellor Saunders-White directly, NCCU agreed to the settlements instead of fighting them in open court. As well, I inquired whether the university was concerned about the broad and stark pattern of problems alleged.
The decision to settle is in no way an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the university or any NCCU employee.
In a statement, NCCU Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations Ayana Hernandez wrote, in part, that the university: “takes any and all complaints of unfair treatment seriously and thoroughly investigates all claims of intolerance.
Under the terms of these settlements, the university is unable to provide specific information regarding each individual case.”
The statement continued: “The decision to settle is in no way an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the university or any NCCU employee.”
She went on: “These cases do not represent the reputation of North Carolina Central University, an institution that has a long legacy of being one of the most ethnically diverse in higher education among our faculty and staff communities.
“We are committed to providing an atmosphere that represents and supports equality.”
In each of the four settlements, NCCU and/or the Board of Governors agree to pay a portion of the agreed-upon amount. It’s not clear precisely how those payments were divided.
However, in all four settlements it is stated that NCCU alone must pay plaintiff attorney fees, which in the series of cases totaled almost $90,000.