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Gordon College has been hit with a federal suit that alleges longstanding discrimination against women. Eight current and five former faculty members filed a sexual discrimination and civil rights suit last week against Gordon College near Macon, its president Jerry M. Williamson, three of his assistants and the state Board of Regents. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Macon, alleges a policy of sexual discrimination against women with respect to promotions, job assignments and work conditions. The suit says the college has retaliated against those who have complained about the policy. Six of the plaintiffs are men who say they were retaliated against for standing up for their female colleagues. One male plaintiff says his classroom was stripped of furniture, forcing his students to sit on the floor. Two lawyers who handle discrimination cases say it’s not unusual to include as plaintiffs third parties that suffered retaliation for speaking out against discrimination. “It is a well-established principle that people who are retaliated against for speaking out on something they consider to be wrong may sue for damages,” says Mary Katz of Macon’s Chambless Higdon & Carson. What lies behind the climate of intimidation, according to the suit, is Williamson’s belief that female faculty members should be “submissive and docile.” Adams v. Gordon College, No. 5-00-CV-369-2 (M.D. Ga. Aug. 11, 2000). HIGH TURNOVER CLAIMED The plaintiffs also claim that Williamson’s practices and policies have taken a toll on the two-year college, 35 miles northwest of Macon. They allege that between 1979 and 1989, Gordon had an unusually high turnover rate and the lowest tenure rate in the university system. They claim the Board of Regents ignored years of complaints about Williamson and his practices, including grievances filed in 1989 by 18 professors, a no-confidence vote by the faculty that same year, and two previously filed sexual discrimination suits. Williamson, who has been Gordon’s president since 1972 except for a one-year hiatus, didn’t return calls. Another defendant, Jason Horn, chair of the Humanities and Developmental Studies department, referred inquiries to the Board of Regents. Arlethia Perry-Johnson, a spokeswoman for the board, says the board won’t comment on pending litigation. Daryl A. Robinson, deputy counsel to the Attorney General, declines comment on the suit. The seven female plaintiffs allege they were victims of gender discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. The six male plaintiffs allege illegal retaliation under the same statutes. The complaint, filed by Macon attorneys O. Hale Almand Jr., Samuel G. Alderman, and Sarah S. Harper of Almand & Wiggins, seeks a permanent injunction banning further acts of discrimination and retaliation, back wages, five million dollars in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. Professors, the suit says, must “strictly adhere to certain rules in order to survive at Gordon College,” including an “unspoken mandate that females must behave in a submissive and docile manner.” MALE PROFESSORS ‘FLOURISH’ Male professors, on the other hand, “flourish at Gordon College, provided they turn a blind eye to Defendant Williamson’s discriminatory practices,” the suit says. Gordon College, which began in 1832 as a seminary and later became a military institution, has about 2,500 students and 70 professors. It became a part of the state university system in 1972, the year the Board of Regents appointed Williamson president. Williamson left the college briefly in 1978 to serve a short stint as vice chancellor of the University of Georgia system. He returned to the college as president in 1979. Ten years later, according to the suit, 18 faculty members filed grievances against Williamson alleging sex and race discrimination, misuse of equipment purchased with federal funds, and discriminatory application of labor laws. The faculty-administration atmosphere deteriorated to the point that the faculty gave the president a vote of no confidence. Two university system vice-chancellors who conducted an investigation recommended that Williamson be removed, the suit says, but the Board of Regents rejected their recommendation. The only action the board took was a suggestion that Williamson change his management style, the suit says. Since then, two female professors filed discrimination suits against Williamson and the college. One was settled out of court and the other is pending. In 1999 most of the college faculty requested yet another investigation of Williamson, but nothing was done, the suit says, adding that by its inaction, the Board of Regents “has condoned Defendant Williamson’s unlawful Conduct.” Finally, 11 tenured Gordon professors sent a memorandum to Hardin on Sept. 27, 1999, requesting a meeting to discuss problems at the school. The protesting professors also asked for a meeting with Chancellor Stephen R. Portch, but no meeting occurred. Eight of the plaintiffs were among the group who signed the memorandum to Hardin. Hardin did not return a call for comment. Plaintiff Marlin Adams, a tenured associate art professor, says some of his classes were canceled after he complained about women’s treatment. His classroom was stripped of furniture, forcing his students to sit on the floor, he says. And then he was evaluated by a supervisor who sat in on his class the day after his mother’s funeral, he says. He was criticized for an “unenthusiastic” teaching style.

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