By Blake Neff
A historically black college in St. Louis, Mo., has been forced to cough up $4.85 million to a fire professor when a court found the woman was fired for being white.
Beverly Wilkins was a professor at Harris-Stowe State University’s College of Education from 2001 until 2010, when she was fired. In 2012, though, she struck back with a lawsuit, saying her departure wasn’t for budgetary or performance reasons but instead was due to an administrator’s vendetta against the white race.
According to Wilkins’ lawsuit, she started to be pushed out at Harris-Stowe after the college hired Latisha Smith as a faculty member in 2007. Smith was quickly promoted to assistant dean and then dean of the College of Education, and Wilkins said she subscribed to a “black power” ideology that drove her to purge the college of all whites. In 2010 Wilkins was fired, with Smith blaming the move on state budget cuts. Wilkins says every white professor at the school was ultimately let go, except for one protected by tenure. Meanwhile, only one black professor was let go, and it was due to a sex crime conviction.
While Harris-Stowe’s budget was used to justify Wilkins termination, shortly after she was let go the school hired two new (black) professors to teach her classes, at a combined salary higher than what Wilkins earned.
Smith attempted to conceal her behavior by deleting emails, but some slipped through the cracks and provided critical evidence for the lawsuit. In one email, a black instructor complained to Smith about her egregious prejudice.
“I am floored to know that we have an interim leader that has voiced her prejudice so openly to me and others,” the email, published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, says.
Smith no longer serves as dean, but her acts have still put the school on the hook for millions.
The ruling, delivered by a jury, awards Wilkins $1.35 million in compensation for lost wages and emotional distress, as well as $3.5 million in punitive damages. The ruling could potentially be modified by a judge.
Neither Wilkins nor Harris-Stowe are commenting on the ruling, though Harris-Stowe board member Ronald Norwood described the outcome as “regrettable” in a statement to the Post-Dispatch, suggesting the school might appeal.
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