N.C. Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White said Friday that the school will “vehemently and aggressively” defend against former employees’ allegations of race discrimination.
In an email to the campus community, Saunders-White wrote: “Please be assured that we work tirelessly to make certain that every employee of this institution is treated objectively and fairly.”
The lawsuits were brought by former NCCU employees – two in federal court and one in state court – accusing African-American officials at NCCU of discriminating against employees who are not black. The allegations were aimed at officials in NCCU’s business school and the chancellor herself.
The allegations are:
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▪ Kimberly Luse, Saunders-White’s former chief of staff, filed suit May 21 in Superior Court, accusing the chancellor of misusing university funds for her personal benefit, on items such as meals, entertainment and exercise equipment at her home. Her suit also alleged that Saunders-White violated employment laws “based upon her own personal animus towards non-African American individuals.” Luse, whose salary was $150,000, was terminated at NCCU last year, the suit said, after “a personal, malicious campaign designed to spread false information” about Luse, who is white. The lawsuit alleged that Saunders-White once said “the only two things NCCU was really about were ‘chicken and (an expletive for female genitalia).’”
▪ Marianne Murphy, a former business professor of Cuban heritage, filed a federal lawsuit against NCCU and the UNC Board of Governors on May 20, alleging racial discrimination. The suit repeats Luse’s allegation that Saunders-White told non-black employees that they had no role to play at the historically black university because they don’t understand the environment. The suit said the chancellor said employing non-black female employees is “ill-advised because they distract African American males.” The suit claimed a former business dean and interim business dean engaged in race discrimination and retaliation. It said top UNC system officials and board members knew about the discrimination and did nothing to stop it. Murphy alleges she was denied leadership roles and was the lowest paid business professor, making less than black professors with inferior qualifications.
▪ Francis Smith, a former director of graduate, professional and executive programs in the business school, filed suit in March against NCCU, alleging racial discrimination, a hostile working environment for non-black employees and inconsistent, bad-faith grievance procedures. The suit said white males make up 8.5 percent and white females make up 7.7 percent of the university’s workforce. It said that Smith, who is white, was hired under false promises by the former business dean, who “ignored critical work communications” and retaliated against Smith. Smith, whose total compensation was $150,000, was terminated as part of restructuring at the university, the suit claimed.
The Attorney General’s Office has argued that Smith did not present specific actions of discrimination and did not file the claim within the 180-day statutory time limit.
The plaintiffs share the same law firm, The Noble Law Firm of Chapel Hill. Attorney Nicholas Sanservino Jr. could not be reached to comment Friday.
Luse left NCCU for Valdosta State University in Georgia, where she also worked as a chief of staff. Media outlets in Georgia reported that Luse resigned in March after a run-in with police involving alcohol.
Saunders-White’s email stated that the university operates within state, UNC and NCCU guidelines with regard to its financial accounts, including her accounts.
She wrote that the former employees’ claims may seem “hurtful, malicious and personal.”
She said NCCU’s community believes that excellence “can only be achieved when people of varying beliefs and backgrounds collaborate in an environment that welcomes and fosters inclusivity, innovation and creativity.”