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Law Dean Can Take Suit for Racial Bias to Trial

HOUSTON (CN) - A law school assistant dean can advance claims that "only the white woman was singled out" at Texas Southern University, a federal judge ruled.

Patricia Garrison, the assistant dean of academic support for TSU's Thurgood Marshall School of Law, filed a federal complaint for race discrimination and retaliation against the university in June 2011.

"Texas Southern University treated one of the hardest working employees in its law school poorly for one reason and one reason alone - she is Caucasian," Garrison wrote. "It denied this woman compensation she earned, it stripped her of job duties she was performing well, and steadfastly put up road blocks in an attempt to make her life so difficult that she would resign. When she formally complained, the treatment became worse and the retaliation began. Now, the university has denied her a promotion for which she is well-qualified. There is no place for such treatment in this day and age."

Garrison described a number of her successes, both as a TSU student and in the first years of her employment.

But she says her problems began when Dannye Holley took-over as interim dean of the law school and "embarked on a campaign to make her life extremely difficult."

Holley's leadership was marked by allegedly disparate treatment for white and black employees.

Holley "even sat in on Garrison's interview of a prospective receptionist, rather than allowing her to initiate the hiring process - as he permits for every person of color at her level of authority at the law school," according to the complaint. "She is not even provided with a key to get into the law school rooms she needs to access on weekends and holidays when she is teaching and coordinating critical bar preparation programs. Other employees of color are provided keys, but not the white woman."

Garrison says she complained to the university and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, leading TSU to retaliate by predicating her pay on monthly approval.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison refused Tuesday to grant TSU partial summary judgment on Garrison's claim for race discrimination.

"In its motion, TSU does not contest that these alleged actions occurred, nor does it argue that the alleged actions were not taken with discriminatory intent," Ellison wrote. "TSU only argues that the alleged actions do not arise to the level of an adverse employment action."

If the university cut Garrison's job duties and withheld $5,000 of her pay, the moves could constitute adverse employment actions, according to the 13-page ruling.

A jury will have to decide whether TSU had nondiscriminatory reasons for its treatment of Garrison, or whether such reasons were a pretext for discrimination, Ellison concluded.


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