Durham News

NCCU settles race discrimination lawsuit for $175K

N.C. Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, the university, and the UNC system Board of Governors have settled a race discrimination lawsuit and related claims with the chancellor’s former chief of staff for $175,000, according to state records.

The claims filed by Kimberly Luse, who was terminated by NCCU in early 2014, were made in one of three lawsuits that allege university employees unlawfully lost their jobs at NCCU because they were not African-American.

Luse’s state court case is the only case among the three that named Saunders-White individually as a defendant. Luse also had a claim before the N.C. Industrial Commission.

A copy of the September 2015 settlement agreement with Luse, obtained through a public records request by the News & Observer, shows she agreed to voluntarily dismiss and thus resolve “any and all claims,” and waived any future claims against the three parties, in exchange for the $175,000 and her compliance with other terms of the agreement.

The terms include mutual confidentiality, a non-disparagement clause, and a neutral employment reference from NCCU. In the settlement, Luse agreed to have no future employment with any university in UNC’s system or with any associated entities.

The agreement also says that Luse and the three defendants – the chancellor, the university and the Board of Governors – all deny any wrongdoing. It says each party understands the settlement is “a compromise of doubtful and disputed claims.”

Luse’s state case in the Durham County courts alleged that the chancellor misused university funds for personal benefit and violated employment laws “based upon her own personal animus towards non-African American individuals.”

Luse’s lawsuit had also alleged false accusations against her, and denigrating and “outrageous language” about her by Saunders-White.

Luse’s attorney, Nicholas Sanservino, Jr. of The Noble Law Firm, said “the matters are resolved” and that his client is “moving on.” Sanservino and attorney Laura Noble declined to make Luse available for an interview.

According to the agreement, one portion of the payout, for $50,000, was paid by NCCU as wages, and a second portion paid by NCCU, $59,967, went to Luse’s attorneys.

The document states that a third amount, $65,033 for “any alleged compensatory and other damages,” would be paid by “NCCU, the Board of Governors, and/or Saunders White.”

The agreement does not say whether Saunders-White may have paid part or all of the $65,033.

Kimberly Luse’s attorney says “the matters are resolved” and that his client is “moving on.”

The N.C. Office of the Attorney General has been representing the defendants in these cases. Spokeswoman Noelle Talley said the office had no comment on the settlement.

An effort to reach Saunders-White for comment was unsuccessful.

On the website linkedin.com, Luse lists her former position at NCCU and shows she is now the principal and founder of a company called Strategic Ethical Solutions.

Luse’s company website says leaders must “lead from a moral compass that is centered and focused on the well being of the people who are in their employ.”

Two other ex-employees, former business professor Marianne C. Murphy and former program director Francis M. Smith, have claims still pending in federal court and at the Industrial Commission.

There has been a development in the Industrial Commission case filed by Smith, a former director of graduate, professional and executive programs at NCCU’s business school.

Commission files show that the AG’s office attorneys for Saunders-White have resisted lawyer Sanservino’s request to question the chancellor under oath.

On Nov. 17, the commission ordered that Saunders-White and Wanda Lester (interim dean of the business school) must “be available for a deposition” within 14 days.

Gasparoli: tgaspo@gmail.com