Trial for discrimination lawsuit against ‘U’ begins

Monday, December 2, 2019 - 6:35pm

The trial for a discrimination lawsuit in 2016 against the University of Michigan under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act began at the Washtenaw County Courthouse Monday.

The trial for a discrimination lawsuit in 2016 against the University of Michigan under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act began at the Washtenaw County Courthouse Monday. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Current faculty member Emily Lawsin and former faculty member Scott Kurashige filed a discrimination lawsuit in 2016 against the University of Michigan under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The trial began today at 9 a.m. at the Washtenaw County Court and it is scheduled to continue until December 23.

Kurashige and Lawsin are seeking more than $25,000 in damages to compensate for emotional distress, loss of reputation and lost salaries following accusations of discriminatory practices.

They cite a “hostile work environment for faculty of color and women” at the University, “Patterns of racial discrimination in faculty hiring” within the department of american culture and racial discrimination in leadership selection and promotion, among other things, in their lawsuit. They also claim Office of Institutional Equity failed to investigate the complaints of discrimination Kurashige made in a just and efficient manner. 

Lawsin is a lecturer IV in the women’s studies and american culture departments and Kurashige was a tenured professor and the director of the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program before he left in 2014. Both began working at the University in 2000.

Kurashige was removed from his position as director of the A/PIA studies program and said he felt pressured to quit his tenured position. He now works as a professor at the University of Washington. Kurashige additionally seeks reinstatement to both his former positions at the University. 

They are being represented by attorneys Alice Jennings and Carl Edwards of Edwards and Jennings, PC, a law firm based in Detroit. 

The United Asian American Organizations released a statement on Sunday in support of Lawsin in Kurashige in their lawsuit and urged students to attend the trial to show support. The UAAO said the University has discriminated against both Lawsin and Kurashige without justification. 

“While Professor Emily Lawsin is currently employed by the university, our own administrators have violated her lecturers’ contract in attempts to fire her,” UAAO wrote in the statement. “Professor Kurashige was forced out of his position as director of A/PIA Studies and has had his job applications completely disregarded, despite being the current president of the American Studies Association. The University has not presented valid reasons for these actions against both professors.”

UAAO added they will continue to fight against discrimination at the University and they wholeheartedly support Lawsin and Kurashige. 

“For as long as the university’s administration routinely engages in secret and illegal acts to undermine civil rights and Title IX investigations, UAAO will continue to fight to change this system,” UAAO said. “We cannot and will not work for the best interests of the university if the university will not work for the best interests of us.”

In an interview earlier today, University President Mark Schlissel told The Daily the University is taking this case to trial instead of settling, as it does for many discrimination claims, because they don’t feel they have done anything wrong. 

“The University, when it does something wrong, we take pride in recognizing and rectifying it,” Schlissel said. “We settle many, many lawsuits when we think that the claimant has a reasonable claim and we should’ve done things differently or better. In this instance, the case that’s going to trial, we don’t think that’s the case. So we’ll litigate to protect the University against claims that we just don’t think are fair or correct.”

Schlissel said he did not feel comfortable commenting on the particulars of the case, but he said the University will follow to whatever the court ends up deciding.

“I could sit here and go through the particulars because I’ve been briefed on things that reach this level, but I’d rather not because I’m afraid of getting it wrong,” Schlissel said. “I’m not the lawyer representing the University. But we only litigate things where we think the University is being treated unfairly. And we’ll see the outcome and we’ll certainly follow what the court says.”

LSA senior Dim Mang attended a portion of the trial today to support Lawsin and Kurashige. Mang said the depositions that occurred before the trial revealed racial bias and discrimination at the University. 

“I think with the Lawsin and Kurashige case and especially with the amount of depositions that have come out and the things that we know now, there was a huge, huge racial bias in the case,” Mang said. “And I think there was a lot of knowledge and email correspondences that the University kept hidden and I think a lot of that is coming out in this lawsuit.”

Mang continued, saying if Lawsin and Kurashige do not win their lawsuit it would be detrimental to students of color on campus. She noted it is important for the University to own up and take responsibility for its harmful or discriminatory practices. 

“Its impact on students, especially Asian/Pacific Islander American students and students who may be interested in the A/PIA studies program, I think the impact is extremely negative if this lawsuit isn’t successful and if the University doesn’t admit its wrongdoing,” Mang said. “Especially because Michigan really prides itself on DEI and all of those things yet, in practice, they really don’t follow through. And I think that they really should for the sake of their students, especially for the sake of their students of color that they admit when their processes are harmful to communities of color, that they atone for those and they rectify those practices.”