Black Penn State political science professor Errol A. Henderson filed a lawsuit against the university in U.S. Middle District Court on Wednesday for discrimination and a hostile work environment based on race following colleague complaints after Henderson published an op-ed in The Daily Collegian in January 2019.
Henderson is seeking damages and legal equitable relief in connection with the university's "improper conduct" by declaring acts he experienced in violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act, which claims intentional racial discrimination. Henderson is also demanding $75,000 and will be legally represented by Stephen G. Console of Console Mattiacci Law in Philadelphia.
According to the lawsuit, he has filed formal complaints against the university due to an alleged "racially hostile work environment" for the past 10 years. Specifically, Henderson has reported "unprofessional and biased behavior of his white colleagues" to the political science department head, Lee Ann Banaszak, since 2014, the lawsuit said.
In 2015, Henderson alleged that Nick Jones, current executive vice president and provost of Penn State, made an "offensive and stereotypical remark" about a member's ethnicity in an address to faculty. Penn State took no action, according to the lawsuit.
Henderson was allegedly accused by Banaszak for "harassment" because he continually raised complaints to her. Henderson brought these concerns to Penn State President Eric Barron, but no action was taken from the university, the lawsuit said.
According to case documents, Henderson asked Banaszak to be considered for a full professor position after the publication and success of his book titled "African Realism? International Relations Theory and Africa's Wars in the Postcolonial Era" in 2015. Henderson was denied this opportunity by Banaszak allegedly due to "purported deficiencies in Dr. Henderson's classroom skills and performance."
Afterwards, in 2017, Henderson formally complained to the Associate Vice President of Affirmative Action Suzanne Adair for Banaszak's "refusal to consider him" for full professor along with other alleged discriminatory actions in the political science department.
In the Daily Collegian op-ed titled "Being Black at Penn State" that was published in 2019, Henderson detailed his experiences with systemic racism at Penn State and his "battles with toxic race discrimination" within the policial science department, the lawsuit said.
"Within weeks of publication, Dr. Henderson learned that several of his white colleagues had raised complaints that he had created a racially hostile work environment for them, and that he was being investigated by Penn State for alleged racial harassment," the lawsuit said.
The university then issued Henderson a formal letter of discipline, which charged him with "discrimination and harrasment and related inappropriate conduct" under Unversity Policy AD91. This barred Henderson from teaching until June 20, 2021, and it required him to take remedial courses in teaching.
Currently, Henderson holds the position of associate professor and continues to be denied for the full professor position, according to the lawsuit.
In 2020, President Barron released a statement regarding the murder of George Floyd, which advocated for concerns that Henderson has been fighting for, according to case documentation.
"Instead of supporting Dr. Henderson's prescient views that are now being championed by the institution, Penn State disciplined him, convicting him of creating a racially hostile work environment, and effectively placed him on the bench for two years and stifled his ability to move into a leadership position at Penn State," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleged that Henderson's race was a "motivating and/or determinative factor" in the "discriminatory" way he was treated by Penn State.
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