John Marshall Law School dean Richardson Lynn ()
A racial discrimination and retaliation case brought against Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School by two former professors has survived a motion for summary judgment.
U.S. District Judge William Duffy Jr. on Monday ruled that the claims of breach of contract, bad faith, racial discrimination and retaliation could proceed. However, he wrote that his denial of summary judgment to John Marshall was “difficult and close.”
“The claims and factual content supporting them are just sufficient to survive,” Duffy wrote. “They were allowed largely because of the conflicting and inconsistent testimony, and other evidence offered by the defendant. In the end, while the claims are nominally viable, they ultimately will have to be evaluated by a jury.”
“Of course you are always disappointed when you don’t win your motion,” said dean Richardson Lynn. “We had hoped it would go the other way, but it’s just summary judgment. It will be a fair and interesting trial.”
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Edward Buckley of the Buckley Law Firm in Atlanta, did not respond to a request for comment.
Plaintiffs Kamina Pinder, an African-American woman, and Scott Sigman, a white man, were informed by the law school in March 2011 that their yearlong teaching contracts would not be renewed. Neither were tenured. They filed suit in 2012.
Pinder claimed discrimination and retaliation because of her race and because she had aired her views that the law school had a history of giving minority women the least desirable teaching assignments and of discouraging them from seeking tenure.
Sigman alleged he was fired for raising concerns about unfair grading practices against white students and the administration’s handling of personnel matters. Both plaintiffs alleged the law school violated its internal policies in their dismissals.
John Marshall insisted that Pinder and Sigman’s contracts were not renewed because of their plans to launch a private business, Law School Advantage, aimed at preparing incoming law students that might pose a conflict of interest. Pinder and Sigman contended that was a pretext.
Duffy noted that a white professor at the law school was allowed to maintain a for-profit bar exam tutoring business. The law school argued that it had approved that business, whereas Pinder and Sigman lacked its sanction for their enterprise.
Duffy granted the law school’s motion for summary judgment on Sigman’s racial discrimination claim, but said his race-based retaliation claim might be valid because his complaint about potentially unfair grading of white students could be construed as protected activity.
The law school said it decided not to renew Sigman’s teaching contract weeks before he reported his concerns. However, he was not informed of the decision until the day after he made them known.
“I took the same action with exactly the same facts for a black female and a white male,” Richardson said. “There was no discrimination here.”
Pinder is now a visiting assistant professor at Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law; Sigman is an associate professor at the Charlotte School of Law.
The plaintiffs seek back pay; reinstatement to their former positions; and compensatory and punitive damages.