A Lubbock County jury on May 25 decided Texas Tech should pay a former professor more than $500,000 for discriminating against him because he is deaf.
Michael L. Collier, Ph.D., a deaf, tenure-track assistant professor hired to teach American Sign Language and other courses relating to deaf culture, was abruptly dismissed in October 2006.
The jury found Collier's disability was directly related to his termination.
Collier and his legal team beamed after the verdict.
"We wanted to show Tech it's wrong to bully a disabled person," said Bob Schmidt, one of Collier's attorneys.
He said the damages and pay the jury awarded Collier made it clear it is not OK for the university to treat disabled professors like second-class citizens.
"This is their way of showing them it's not right," Schmidt said.
The jury found that Collier's disability was a motivating factor in Tech's decision not to reappoint him and that Tech would not have made that decision in the absence of his disability.
They awarded Collier $47,651 in back pay, $100,000 in front pay and $400,000 in past compensatory damages.
"We're disappointed and surprised by the verdict," said Tech spokesman Chris Cook. "We didn't think the facts merited a decision against Tech."
Cook said Tech encourages diversity in faculty, staff and student populations and that the university does not discriminate.
Schmidt said ostensible diversity doesn't preclude discrimination.
"It's one thing to hire a deaf person and think 'this is going to be a feather in our cap - a deaf faculty member,'" Schmidt said. "But then it's a totally different experience to sit down and work with that person and accept them for who they are when they have differences."
Collier sued Tech in 2008, accusing the university of discriminating against him because of his disability.
The case centered primarily on the way Collier was treated by his supervisor and how he was fired.
Frederick Suppe, Ph.D., the chairman of the language department, never met with Collier face-to-face, nor expressed any displeasure with his performance until he informed Collier he would not be reappointed.
This does not comply with university policy.
University policy states that Tech will follow a "progressive disciplinary action program for employees, which begins with an 'informal talk,' and includes disciplinary counseling, letters of unsatisfactory work performance and suspension with or without pay."
Policy also mandates: "Supervisors should review with employees with disabilities whether additional reasonable accommodations would resolve work performance deficiencies prior to taking aggressive disciplinary actions."
Suppe informed Collier that his contract would not be renewed halfway through his second semester with no prior counseling, discussion or opportunity for corrective action.
Suppe wouldn't give Collier an explanation as to why he was being dismissed.
"They basically fired him out of the blue - a sucker punch," Schmidt said. "They wouldn't meet with him, wouldn't talk with him; (they) put him under the supervision of lower-ranked people and treated him like a second-class citizen."
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Texas Tech must pay former professor, who is deaf, $500,000 for terminating him because of his disability
From The Avalanche-Journal in Lubbock, Texas:
Posted by BA Haller at 8:51 PM