Jury finds university discriminated against HR employee

$2.46 million verdict

Mass. Lawyers Weekly Staff//September 7, 2023

The plaintiff was a vice president in human resources at Brandeis University.

HR conducted an investigation in 2017 into allegations that the white coach of the men’s basketball team had made racial remarks to several Black student-athletes. HR found that the coach violated the university’s non-discrimination policy and code of conduct policy.

The student affairs department rejected the discrimination finding, and the coach was retained. Months later, additional racial allegations surfaced. The coach was fired and media coverage ensued.

Brandeis hired an external law firm to conduct an investigation. The university then disciplined three women, including the plaintiff, for their roles in the earlier investigation. The plaintiff was demoted, her salary was cut, and she was publicly rebuked, causing her reputational harm. The plaintiff was then retaliated against after she filed a discrimination charge with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and later in Superior Court.

The plaintiff was ultimately terminated. She was out of work for a year.

At trial, the plaintiff argued that the defendants discriminated against her on the basis of race and gender in demoting her, in rejecting her internal appeal, in mistreating her, and in terminating her.

The plaintiff argued that there were men who could have been disciplined but were not, and that she was treated worse than her white counterpart, post-demotion.

Action: Employment
Injuries alleged: Race and gender discrimination, retaliation, lost wages, emotional distress
Case name: Nelson-Bailey v. Brandeis University, et. al.
Court/case no.: Middlesex Superior Court/No. 1981-CV-01430
Jury and/or judge: Jury/Judge Shannon Frison
Amount: $2.46 million
Special damages: $310,000, wages; $650,000, emotional distress; $1.5 million, punitives
Most helpful expert: Peter Glick, professor of social sciences and psychology, Wisconsin
High-low agreement: No
Date: Aug. 30, 2023
Attorneys: Matthew Fogelman and Jeffrey Simons, of Fogelman Law, Newton (for the plaintiff)

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