Two former associate professors at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School have filed a lawsuit alleging that their teaching contracts were not renewed in 2011 because of racial discrimination and retaliation.
Kamina Pinder, an African-American woman, accused the school of a history of giving minority women the least desirable teaching assignments and dissuading them from seeking tenure. Scott Sigman, a white man, claimed he was fired in retaliation for raising concerns about the administration’s handling of personal matters and unfair grading.
Both alleged that the school did not follow its internal policies when dismissing them without faculty input or hearings.
Dean Richardson Lynn notified both plaintiffs in March 2011 that their teaching contracts would not be renewed, according to the complaint filed on September 20 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Lynn said in an interview on September 24 that the decision not to renew Pinder’s or Sigman’s teaching contract was not unusual and that the school followed the proper procedures. Because neither had full tenure, the school did not have to show cause for not renewing their yearlong contracts, he said.
Both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board rejected Pinder’s and Sigman’s complaints, Lynn said, and the school rebuffed their attorneys’ attempt to settle because administrators believed they did nothing wrong. “They were given six months’ notice and six months’ pay,” Lynn said. “They were given time to find new jobs.”
Edward Buckley of Atlanta firm Buckley & Klein, who represents Pinder and Sigman, was not available for comment.
Lynn said he opted not to renew either Pinder’s or Sigman’s teaching contract because of their plans to launch a private business called Law School Advantage, aimed at helping to prepare incoming law students. He feared a potential conflict of interest, given that the enterprise would take time away from their teaching at John Marshall and that the school might pursue a similar program in the future, he said. The faculty handbook prohibits professors from starting outside businesses, although it does permit some types of outside consulting, he said.
The plaintiffs allege in their complaint that administrators used their work on Law School Advantage as pretext to get rid of them after each raised concerns about specific administrative practices, and because Pinder planned to apply for tenure.
Pinder originally suggested that John Marshall offer the law school prep program, but administrators weren’t interested, according to the complaint. Other John Marshall faculty and administrators knew about the project and no one raised concerns it might violate the rules, the complaint continued.
Pinder, who in 2006 began teaching legal writing in a nontenure-track position, wrote a letter to American Bar Association in 2007 accusing the school of a pattern of racial discrimination against faculty members. The letter followed her failed bid to switch to the tenure track, although she moved to the tenure track the following year.
Lynn said that the percentage of minority faculty members and students has grown during each year since he became dean in 2006. According to the American Bar Association, 39 percent of the law school’s students and about 25 percent of its full-time faculty are members of minority groups.
Sigman started teaching at the law school in 2007 and was director of its legal skills and professionalism program, according to the complaint. He began to clash with another professor — a minority woman — in 2008, the document says. He complained to Lynn and other administrators about the other professor’s treatment of him and about student concerns that this professor favored minority students.
Sigman asked administrators to intervene on numerous occasions, and met with Lynn on March 1, 2011, to air a long list of grievances and request action, according to the complaint; two days later, Lynn informed him that his contract would not be renewed.
Lynn said that the timing of that decision was coincidental and unrelated to Sigman’s “ongoing battle” with the other professor.
Pinder alleges two causes of action for race discrimination, and Sigman alleges two for retaliation. Both plaintiffs claim breach of contract and bad faith. They seek back pay; reinstatement to their former positions; and compensatory and punitive damages.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.