A former law professor in charge of a Skadden-sponsored diversity program at City College of New York can move forward with her retaliation suit against the school.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer of the Southern District of New York on Sept. 7 denied City College’s motion to dismiss Lynda Dodd’s suit on the grounds that she had supplied enough evidence to further argue her claims that administrators undermined her tenure bid after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“Dodd has pleaded a number of instances in which protected acts—i.e., complaints that Dodd’s employer reasonably should have understood to concern disability discrimination or retaliation—were followed shortly thereafter by adverse employment actions,” Engelmayer wrote in his opinion.
Dodd’s lawyer, Anne Clark of employment law firm Vladeck, Raskin & Clark, declined to comment on the decision Monday. A spokesman for City College did not respond to requests for comment.
According to her suit, Dodd—who was previously a law professor at the American University Washington College of Law—was hired in 2010 for a tenure-track position overseeing the Skadden, Arps Honors Program at City College. That program, housed in City College’s political science department and funded by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, offers scholarships, mentoring, internships and LSAT prep to rising juniors with the goal of diversifying the legal profession.
She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after starting at City College, which she claims touched off a series of retaliatory actions including a denial of early tenure, pressure to increase her scholarly output, and being prohibited from teaching certain graduate courses after she complained that administrators failed to accommodate her disability. Her condition initially caused facial spasms and difficulty climbing stairs, but her symptoms worsened over time.
Dodd sought disability accommodations in 2013, according to the suit, and a City College review committee voted against reappointing her to her position for the following academic year. She appealed that decision to City College’s then-president and was reappointed. But Dodd claims that administrators took a number of other retaliatory actions against her.
Dodd and City College entered into a settlement agreement in 2016 under which she was reappointed for two years, and the head of the political science department, with whom she had repeatedly clashed, was prohibited from participating in her personnel decisions.
But Dodd contends that the college continued to discriminate against her when she was blocked from teaching a graduate-level seminar and her salary was decreased. City College president Vincent Boudreau denied her reappointment bid in August, effectively terminating her employment.
Dodd first sued City College in December 2017.
“These alleged events, viewed holistically, could surely impair a professor’s ability to successfully navigate the highly competitive tenure application process—a process in which even modest advantages or disadvantages could prove consequential,” Engelmayer wrote in his opinion. “For example, [Political Science Department head Bruce] Cronin’s alleged practice of excluding Dodd from departmental communications could cut off the flow of important departmental information to Dodd and cause her to be ostracized from colleagues.”