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Oklahoma-based University faces Justice Dept. lawsuit

This blog has previously discussed that some employment discrimination situations can be reported to the federal government for investigation. An institution of higher learning in Oklahoma is about to find out exactly what that looks like.

Southeastern Oklahoma State University has been named as a defendant, along with the Regional University System of Oklahoma, of a suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice claiming that the school has run afoul of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The DOJ claims that the university violated the rights of one of its employees under Title VII of the act. According to the suit, the university discriminated against a professor based upon her gender, then retaliated against her when she reported said discrimination.

The facts of the case, as reported, are that a male professor of English and Humanities was hired as an assistant professor in 2004. That professor then transitioned to a female around the 2007-2008 school year. When she applied for a tenured position, she was denied, even though her department head and other tenured professors supported her application. In 2011, the school terminated the professor's employment because she had not received tenure. After her dismissal, a couple on-line petitions were created on her behalf which garnered a total of over 4,000 signatures.

This case is indicative of the way existing laws can be utilized to protect certain classes of people who may not be covered by specific anti-discrimination statutes. While Oklahoma does not generally have any legal protections for transgendered people, the DOJ has determined there is enough evidence that this employee was discriminated against due to her gender, that a lawsuit was warranted. Individuals having questions about illegal workplace discrimination or other employment law issues may wish to consider contacting an experienced Oklahoma employment lawyer.

Source: USA Today, "Justice Dept. sues Oklahoma university for firing transgender professor," Lauren Coffee, April 10, 2015

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