University of Illinois Employees Ask Court to Grant Racial Discrimination Class Status in Move for Broad Changes

University Systematically Whitewashed Valid Harassment Complaints by Black Employees

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign employees Derick Brown, Atiba Flemons, and Jeffrey Taylor are suing the University for racial discrimination and racial harassment. Central District of Illinois, 2:19-cv-02020. They have filed a motion to certify a class of thousands of Black employees seeking a Court Order ending illegal racial harassment. The motion shows, based on records produced by the University, that over the class period of six years the University has corroborated exactly zero complaints of discrimination against Black employees.

Mr. Brown, a machinist at the University’s Facilities & Services department, whose initial complaint in 2017 concerned a coworker’s donning a KKK-style hood while other coworkers, including Mr. Brown’s supervisor, looked on and laughed, testified to the University’s indifference: “How can you not say that’s racial when the KKK hood over a guy’s face that are all white? And that’s not racial to a black man? And they find it not racial?

Evidence that University administrators and University lawyers purposefully avoided making a single finding that the University’s own policy prohibiting racial discrimination had been violated is explicitly set forth in Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. One example is a draft investigation report concerning a complaint from an African American employee that his supervisor repeatedly used the “N” word:

The evidence obtained during the investigation does support by a preponderance of the evidence . . . claims of racial harassment creating a hostile work environment. [T]he evidence shows [the victim experienced a] hostile work environment by [the supervisor] using the word ‘n[*]gger’ repeatedly. . .

However, the University investigator’s final report continued the University’s see no evil policy alleged in the complaint:

Based upon the application of this case law to the facts that are before me, I must conclude that, those statements arising out of a single      incident do not by themselves establish the severe or pervasive conduct … under the relevant law.

When asked under oath what had happened between the preliminary draft and the final report that resulted in the change to a finding of no violation,  the investigator testified that the intervening factor was legal review by University counsel.  As one former director of investigations Kaamilyah Abdullah-Span observed, “the nondiscrimination policy by itself does not prohibit certain conduct that is alleged to be harassment until and unless it reaches a standard that parallels the standard applied in a civil damages action for harassment against the university,” effectively emboldening employees to test the limits of the University’s policy and perpetuate harassment.

When Plaintiffs Derick Brown and Atiba Flemons filed new complaints of racial harassment the University failed to respond, let alone complete its investigations, nearly a year later. The University’s top-down whitewash of racial harassment has long been the subject of criticism. In this environment where the University has refused to find in favor of even one employee complaining of racial harassment under the University’s anti-harassment policy, it is not surprising that this past spring white supremacist flyers were posted around campus repeatedly.

Plaintiffs seek a Court Order to end the University’s pattern of racist practices. “This motion for class-wide injunctive relief is about bringing an effective overhaul to the University’s shameful policies and practices, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to Derick Brown, Atiba Flemons and Jeffrey Taylor, who have led this fight courageously on behalf of other Black employees at the University,” said Shilpa Narayan, of Friedman & Houlding LLP, counsel to Plaintiffs.


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