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Profs call upon EEOC| Complaints allege age discrimination

By Melissa Montoya, The Brownsville Herald

Four professors who have previously filed grievances with the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College about their terminations have also filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to an attorney with the Texas Faculty Association.

Russell Ramirez, the staff attorney for the TFA, said some of the professors that were given notification of termination more than a year ago were over age 40. The last day of work for the professors was May 31.

The complaint filed with the agency on behalf of Marvin Lovett, a professor in the School of Business, alleges that he was terminated in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

“They set up this criteria which said everyone that does not have a terminal degree in the area goes to the bottom of the list,” Ramirez said of the way the university determined which professors kept their jobs and which didn’t.

“It is having an impact on older professors,” he added.

A spokeswoman for UTB-TSC declined to comment about claims made by the four professors.

“We don’t comment on any kind of personnel issue,” spokeswoman Leticia Fernandez said.

It is unknown whether it was the school’s intent to target older professors, Ramirez said. According to Ramirez, age discrimination can be proved by intent and or the impact it may have on instructors.

“It’s affecting old professors,” Ramirez said. “They are replacing older professors with younger people.”

Younger professors may not have reached tenure and are paid significantly less, Ramirez said.

Lovett’s complaint with the EEOC calls his termination “arbitrary or capricious,” and alleges that his position remained open and the university continued to seek applications from people with his same qualifications, which Ramirez said undermines the reasoning UTB gave in the first place for firing professors.

The four faculty members Ramirez represents are all well above age 40, he said.

Carol Collinsworth, who taught accounting at the university for more than 30 years, was also notified of termination during the Reduction in Force process, which UTB administrators say was caused by the separation from TSC.

Collinsworth is not one of the four professors represented by the TFA.

“I told them (the university) that I needed a couple of months to get on Medicare and then I was going to retire,” Collinsworth said during an interview in May. “I’m fortunate because I could retire.”

The 66-year-old said she taught at TSC and UTB for more than 30 years.

“All of us that were with TSC, we had years with TSC and then 20 years at the university, so you know we were going to be up in age,” Collinsworth said.

Collinsworth said she feels like she was let go unjustly.

“This was purely getting rid of people they didn’t want. They wrote the rules to get rid of people they wanted to get rid of,” she said. “I think it’s a crummy way to treat a person that’s been loyal to the university for so many years.”

The complaint on behalf of the four professors with the EEOC was filed in January and a decision might be made in July but it could take longer, Ramirez said. After that decision is handed down, he said the next step would be to file a lawsuit.

On April 16, UTB and TSC declined to participate in mediation with the faculty who filed the grievance and the EEOC, Ramirez said.

“The EEOC wanted to try a nonbinding mediation and UTB and TSC refused,” Ramirez said.

“You sit around a table and you try and negotiate a settlement that is acceptable with both sides,” he said. “I didn’t think it would harm anybody especially with the EEOC mediating.”

Regarding the school’s internal grievance procedure, Ramirez said that UTB-TSC has not heard any of the professors’ grievances because UTB-TSC officials said they would administer their own investigation into the allegations.

Most recently, Lovett received a letter from the university stating that there was no trace of age discrimination found by the university’s internal investigation, Lovett said.

Ramirez said he will pursue a grievance process on behalf of Lovett.

“Every university has an internal grievance procedure and we’ve never been given a hearing,” Ramirez said.

Of the four professors, only Lovett allowed Ramirez to provide comment to The Brownsville Herald about his case.

The loss of his job, Lovett said, was unexpected.

Lovett said faculty is usually evaluated in three major areas: teaching, research and service.

“I feel like I ranked very highly on each one of those areas for many years and was kind of surprised I was selected for termination,” said Lovett, who worked at UTB-TSC for approximately 25 years.

Lovett said he is pursuing a grievance because even if it doesn’t help him get his job back, it could help professors in a similar situation in the future.

“We have to watch out for other faculty,” Lovett said.

Although Lovett said the restructuring of UTB and TSC as separate entities and UTB’s merger with the University of Texas—Pan American will bring many resources to students, he added, “Some of the decisions that led to it are questionable.”

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