Professor files 18-count lawsuit against university

A longtime professor claims in a 65-page lawsuit that deep fissions between her and two professors rooted in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, among other differences, resulted in a wide assortment of discrimination and retaliation against her.

Chairwoman of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) department, Dr. Channa Newman, is suing the university on 18 counts.

The counts include:
  • Discrimination of race/national origin, religion, age and sex
  • Retaliation by stripping of duties, removing as Chair, etc.
  • Hostile work environment causing Newman to feel unsafe
  • Breach of contract and negligent supervision by administration who Newman claims ignored her
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress resulting from university’s actions
In a written statement, Point Park University denied all counts in Newman’s complaint.

“The University categorically denies the allegations of wrongdoing contained in the complaint, and will vigorously defend itself in the lawsuit,” university spokesperson Lou Corsaro said.

“Point Park is an inclusive community free of discrimination. As a matter of policy, the University welcomes and supports all faculty members regardless of their race, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, physical ability and political affiliation. Point Park embraces and actively pursues a policy of inclusiveness that reflects the diversity of the community it serves.”

OVERVIEW

Newman filed a civil lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County against Point Park University on Thursday, Jan. 9.

Dr. Robert Ross and Dr. J. Dwight Hines are explicitly mentioned in a number of items in the lawsuit.

In a written statement to The Globe, Ross argues the statements from the lawsuit.

“This lawsuit attempts to use my work in the movement for Palestinian human rights as a basis to attack my support for students who felt victimized by a professor last academic year,” Ross said via email statement.

Newman complained to university administration about national origin and religious discrimination and “suffered materially adverse actions.”

Some actions detailed in the lawsuit include cancelling her classes, removing her as Chair of HSS, shunning her in the workplace and accusing her of another Title IX violation without details of accusers or allegations, according to the suit.

After the university charged Newman with a Title IX violation in the fall 2018 semester, the complaint says Newman’s reputation was “grievously” harmed following the sanction and ban.

The suit says the university’s decision to charge Newman was a “misapplication of the law, an overreaction, an effort to target her, an insult to valid Title IX claims and claimants, and a pretext to remove her.”

The punishment of Newman also reflects the “inadequacy and negligence” in Title IX training as well as the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, age and/or sex discrimination against Newman, according to the lawsuit.

Newman claims she “remains prey to unsubstantiated charges, endless investigations, career damage, degradation of her faculty and chair roles, excessive scrutiny and attacks on her academic freedom,” according to the lawsuit.

Newman said her concerns were ignored by administration, and discriminatory and hostile treatment by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) group was “condoned” by administration.

“I was ostracized, demonized, defamed and targeted for elimination,” Newman said in a written statement via email. “I remain under constant investigation, although the administration doesn’t tell me the charges or who made them.”

Newman allegedly suffered “serious emotional distress, physical manifestation of emotional distress, reputation harm and out of pocket costs,” as a result of the university’s actions detailed in the lawsuit. Newman is seeking all remedies permitted under federal and state law.

DISCRIMINATION

The lawsuit lists five separate counts of discrimination. There is one count each on the basis of race/national origin, religion, age and two counts on the basis of sex.

The complaint claims that Ross promoted “highly anti-Zionist views and activities,” and that he was supported by Hines.

The suit alleges that Ross promoted bias against Israel in his courses, specifically in one class that required reading on the BDS and focused on the Israel Palestine conflict (see fact box on page two for information on the Israel/Palestine conflict and Zionism).

According to the lawsuit, Ross used his position to foster a version of the BDS movement against Israel that included economic, academic and cultural boycott of Israel and Israelis.

“Like my solidarity with the Palestinian people, my commitment to ensuring that students have access to education in an environment free of traumatizing harassment is rooted in the belief that all people—regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, class, age, ability, or orientation—should be treated equitably,” Ross said. “I stand in solidarity with all struggles for equity and liberation, including the Palestinian freedom struggle, the struggle to combat anti-Semitism, and the #MeToo movement. It is necessary to support these movements if we are to fully achieve social justice in our world today.”

Newman, who is Jewish, holds American, Israeli and Czech citizenship and, according to the complaint, is the “sole Israeli faculty member” at the university.

The complaint alleges Point Park “favored Dr. Ross’s religion and theology” in addition to treating individuals outside of Newman’s protected class “more favorably.”

The university also allegedly did not properly follow the Title IX investigation process and procedure because her gender. Younger colleagues of Newman did not receive similar adverse treatment of Newman, according to the official document.

RETALIATION

The suit alleges Newman complained to university administration about Ross and Hines. Specifically, Newman said Ross taught students information that is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, according to the lawsuit.

Ross allegedly “presents Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state,” according to the complaint, and that presentation is “false, deeply offensive and racist.”

Newman says this presentation of Israel demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish state.

“The tactics promoted by BDS include no dialogue, no debate, no compromise (not only businesses but also cultural institutions and even individuals who support Israel are subject to boycotts), surprise attacks, humiliation, workplace ostracism, bullying and slander,” Newman said.

As for Hines, the lawsuit claims he made sexist comments to students.

Hines failed to return multiple requests to comment.

Newman went to university administration and complained that “she was a victim of national origin and religious discrimination including in the work environment which became hostile,” according to the complaint.

The university allegedly “took materially adverse actions against” Newman after she dual-filed a charge of discrimination on the basis on race, sex, religion, national origin, age and retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC).

For instance, the suit says Newman was removed as the chair of the department, stripped of her duties and classes, isolated and shunned in the workplace, endured interference in a faculty meeting, restricted from her office and email, and escorted to and from and her office by a security guard.

HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT

Newman’s complaint also alleges that a Title IX investigation that resulted in her suspension during the Fall 2018 semester was a “set-up.” She learned via the investigation’s Findings of Fact that the student who filed a complaint against her had allegedly consulted with both Ross and Hines.

The complaint made by the student, as previously reported on by The Globe, was that Newman allegedly made insensitive comments regarding the #MeToo movement, both before and after the student expressed their status as a victim of rape. The complaint in the lawsuit filed by Newman disputes this, but also states that like Ross, the student was “active in the BDS movement.”

Newman said the BDS movement impacted her removal after the Title IX investigation.

“The ideology, attitude, and conduct were used most emphatically in the campaign of the false Title IX charge that led to my removal from campus after 55 years,” Newman said. “As the administration knows, several BDS partisans were active in my ousting.”

Ross and Hines left the HSS department when the Social Justice Studies department was formed by Ross, and the two professors then allegedly “shunned” Newman, according to the lawsuit.

Ross and Hines submitted a new version of the social justice program to Provost John Pearson who allegedly backed it without consultation with Newman.

On Dec. 2, 2018, an article written by Newman was published on the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle’s website. The article was titled “Pursuit of ‘social justice’ gives strength to anti-Semitism.”

“As someone with 45 years of experience in teaching, I can attest that there are some programs — fashionable in American academic institutions today — where pretty rhetoric is being used to mask the undemocratic aims and obsessions of the directing professors,” Newman wrote. “What these programs — chief among them, ‘Social Justice Studies’ — do is to establish an absolute binary structure based on the irrational worldview that all can be understood in terms of good and evil. The faux liberals promoting this sort of vigilante justice already have the structure nailed down in two fields of social identity: gender and race.”

The sentiments expressed in this article align with the complaint, which states that Newman expressed her concern with “Social Justice Studies” to both the university Provost Pearson, as well as President Paul Hennigan after the formation of the program.

Pearson allegedly responded to Newman’s concerns by saying, “I know, I’m sorry,” according to the suit. The complaint says Hennigan described Newman’s concerns as “serious.”

BREACH OF CONTRACT

In the complaint, Newman alleges that the university breached its contract in its Title IX investigation against her as the policy was not followed properly.

The complaint also states that the university did not complete its Title IX investigation until Dec. 7, 2018, nearly two months after the initial Title IX complaint was filed, citing the university’s “Policy Prohibiting Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence and Stalking,” that allegedly stated that all investigations must be done within thirty days.

This policy was included on the complaint as Exhibit A. In the first section under “Investigation Procedures and Protocols,” labeled “Assessment and Timeline,” a timeline of sixty days is given. However, in the section “Time Line of Investigation” under “Investigation Process” a timeline of thirty days, with the possibility of an extension.

Newman also claims that the university broke confidentiality following the Title IX investigation, as well as breached its due process policy, anti-discriminatory policy and Academic Freedom policy. This is outlined in the collective bargaining agreement between the university and the faculty union under the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh and the Communication Workers of America. This agreement was also attached as an exhibit on the complaint. The Academic Freedom policy states that faculty members are “entitled to freedom in the classroom or analogous studio or workshop in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching material that does not reasonably promote learning of the subject matter.”

Newman is seeking “all damages available under Pennsylvania Law in excess of $75,000” for each count of breach of contract. The complaint details four counts.

Newman also stated in her complaint that the university acted “intentionally and recklessly,” and that it failed to prevent “further negative treatment.”

The university’s conduct caused Newman emotional distress, specifically mentioning “fright, horror, grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, chagrin, disappointment, and worry,” according to the complaint.

Newman felt the only course of action available to her is a lawsuit because she is “not professionally safe here.”

“My aim also is to draw attention to the personal harm to which I have been subjected unjustly,” Newman said. “The hope is that my case will also shed light on the insidious tactics of the BDS movement so as to prevent Point Park from becoming a beachhead for hate and anti-Semitism and to prevent further injustice and harm to students, faculty and staff and to any innocent individuals and groups.”

Source: ppuglobe