Faculty Association Sues Over Job Losses in Brownsville

Students cross a bridge over a resaca on the University of Texas Brownsville and Texas Southmost College campuses on Monday.
Students cross a bridge over a resaca on the University of Texas Brownsville and Texas Southmost College campuses on Monday.

The Texas Faculty Association filed a lawsuit against the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College on Thursday in a federal district court in Brownsville on behalf of three former faculty members alleging wrongful termination and age discrimination.

It's the latest hiccup in the complex and often contentious unraveling of a partnership between the two institutions, which operated as one for about 20 years. The institutions announced last week that they had reached a property agreement in anticipation of finally and officially separating the two campuses. 

A spokeswoman for UTB said the school does not comment on pending litigation. A request for comment from TSC administration was not immediately returned.

The lawsuit, filed by Russell Ramirez, staff counsel for the Texas State Teachers Association, of which the Texas Faculty Association is the arm focused on higher education, alleges that Juan Antonio Gonzalez, Dorothy Boven and Karen Fuss-Somer, who are all over 40 years old, lost their positions in the wake of the split because of policies that prioritized the retention of nontenured faculty members over tenured ones.

All three faculty members were originally granted tenure at TSC and became tenured faculty members at UTB when the institutions merged in 1992. 

 

The suit calls the decision to prioritize nontenured faculty members "an artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barrier to employment." The plaintiffs also contend that the policy had a disparate impact on faculty members over 40 years old. 

According to the suit, the plaintiffs were not terminated for any reason having to do with their performance, they were not given adequate opportunity to respond to the decision to terminate their employment, and their positions were not subsequently eliminated.

"When faculty rights are violated, we are going to defend them," Mary Aldridge Dean, the executive director of TFA, said in a statement. "Tenure is a property right, and it is not to be taken without good cause or due process, and these individuals were denied both."

Additionally, the suit alleges that Boven did not receive pay on par with what her male counterparts were earning. The plaintiffs contend that they have suffered a substantial loss of income and benefits as well as damage to their respective reputations as a result of losing their jobs.

This is not the first such lawsuit to come about as a result of the split. In April 2013, Susan Mills, an english professor, filed a civil suit roughly a year after she, along with more than 80 colleagues, received news that their positions were being eliminated because of the split.

According to The Brownsville Herald, Mills' original suit alleged that "the actual need, however, for a reduction in force is undercut by the reality that UT-B subsequently began hiring instructors for the English and other departments at the very same time that it was acting to terminate Susan Mills and other tenured professors similarly situated."

In January, the matter was still being hashed out in court.

Meanwhile, as they deal with fallout from the split with TSC, the faculty remaining at UTB are expecting further changes as the institution prepares to merge with the University of Texas-Pan American to form a single region-wide university that will be called the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

 

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