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Laura Beny, University of Michigan Law School professor, filed a lawsuit in the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the University and Law School Dean Mark West on Friday, claiming race, gender, familial and marital status discrimination.
The lawsuit, which names the University, the Law School and West as defendants, asserts that Beny experienced a hostile work environment created by her co-workers and employers throughout her time at the University.
The suit claims that she encountered multiple instances of gender and race discrimination in her classroom and, upon reporting, the situations were not remediated by the University. The lawsuit references the Law School’s “lock step” payroll policy in which employees hired at the same pay rate are expected to receive equivalent raises, and the lawsuit claims that Beny was not given pay raises in lock step with a white male and white female professor who were hired at the same salary as her.
According to the lawsuit, Beny sought a meeting with West in 2014 on this issue, who claimed that it was a clerical error. West then applied for a retroactive pay increase for Beny, the lawsuit says.
“(Beny) felt that the administration had penalized her for having championed equality and making complaints about inequities at the law school,” the lawsuit reads.
University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen told The Michigan Daily in an email that the allegations were baseless. Beny, who was hired at the University in 2003, remains as a tenured faculty member at the Law School, Broekhuizen added.
“The University of Michigan will vigorously defend itself and the Law School against the meritless allegations made by Professor Laura Beny in her complaint,” Broekhuizen wrote.
The lawsuit describes several instances throughout Beny’s tenure in which she allegedly faced derogatory remarks and harassment regarding her race, gender and familial status, including from West. The suit asserts that the University and West are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, which prohibits discrimination based on disabilities and protects the right for temporary leave.
The lawsuit claims that West made multiple inappropriate comments regarding Beny’s appearance, as well as the appearance of her female co-workers, and insinuated that Beny was a “dominatrix” on multiple occasions. Included in the lawsuit was one email in which West signed off with “Your humble minion.”
“This theme of (Beny) being a dominatrix has been constant in Dean West’s inappropriate sexist and racist comments towards (Beny) and it has influenced his discrimination and retaliation to her in the present,” the lawsuit reads. “(Beny) felt demeaned and horrified. (Beny) was a new single mother, her daughter being exactly one year old. No other single parents were on the faculty at (the University’s) Law School, to (Beny’s) knowledge and belief, and Defendant West never spoke to other new mothers, white women, on the faculty in the same offensive manner.”
West was also implicated in controversy in March 2021, when he publicly apologized for featuring racist and sexually suggestive depictions of Asian women on his book covers. The suit recalls West’s apology and claims it was merely “lip service,” as he did not apologize to Beny for his continued race- and gender-based discrimination against her.
“(West) has not apologized to (Beny) for his continuing racist and sexist discrimination, harassment and retaliation against (Beny), which has and continues to have harmful impacts on her psychological condition and her professional standing in the Defendant Law School,” the suit reads. “(Beny) knew that, even as he gave lip service to finally ‘understanding’ the pain he had inflicted, he was continuing to inflict the traumatic sex/race discrimination and retaliation upon (Beny).”
The suit further alleges that throughout the fall of 2021, Associate Dean Kristina Daugirdas repeatedly monitored and harassed Beny on the basis of her marital and familial status. Daugirdas allegedly insisted that Beny bring her daughter, who was isolating for COVID-19 at the time, to campus to ensure Beny could continue to teach in-person instead of over Zoom.
“(Beny) learned from students that white and male professors taught on Zoom when they had concerns about their minor children’s exposure to the virus,” the suit reads. “Only (Beny), the unmarried single parent, was told she could not and (was) chastised for doing so.”
The lawsuit is seeking at least $75,000 in monetary damages and injunctive relief for the alleged discrimination.
Daily Staff Reporters Riley Hodder and Irena Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.