Jury decides in favor of University in Lawsin and Kurashige discrimination trial

Friday, December 20, 2019 - 5:50pm

A jury found the University of Michigan did not discriminate against lecturer Emily Lawsin and former professor Scott Kursashige.

A jury found the University of Michigan did not discriminate against lecturer Emily Lawsin and former professor Scott Kursashige. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

On Friday, after two days of deliberating, the jury found the University of Michigan did not discriminate against Emily Lawsin and Scott Kurashige. Lawsin and Kurashige filed a discrimination lawsuit in 2016 against the University under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, with claims of disparate treatment, discriminatory hiring practices and sex discrimination, among others. 

Lawsin has been a lecturer in the American culture and women’s studies departments at the University since 2000 and recently received a five-year extension on her contract. Kurashige was a tenured professor at the University and director of the Asian/Pacific Islander American studies program until 2014.

Kurashige was removed from his position in the A/PIA studies program and said he left his professorship due to pressure and harassment from the University. Lawsin claimed she faced starkly different treatment from her white, male colleagues 

The spouses sought over $25,000 in damages for lost salaries and emotional harm, and Kurashige wished to be reinstated to both his former positions at the University. 

At an event earlier this year, Lawsin said they decided to go through with this lawsuit to stand up for anyone the University has or could discriminate against.

“They threatened to not allow me to come back to teach,” Lawsin said. “Teaching has been my love and we felt that if they could do that to me and force my partner (Kurashige) out, what would they do to others who are even more vulnerable?”

University Spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told The Daily in an email the University is satisfied with the jury’s decision. 

“We are pleased with the outcome of the trial,” Fitzgerald said. “We especially thank the members of the jury for their time and attention during the trial. We respect the seriousness with which they approached their responsibility.”

In an interview with The Daily on Dec. 2, the day the trial began, University President Mark Schlissel said he does not think the University did 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.”

LSA junior Anna Dang attended parts of the trial in support of Lawsin and Kurashige. She said she was disappointed in the jury’s decision, but she thought the trial brought a lot of attention to discrimination within the University community and educated students about the issue. 

“I think that the decision today is something that is extremely disappointing for student activists," Dang said. "But I think there is a certain way to look at it in that this decision doesn’t measure the success of the activism around this case and the A/PIA studies professors that went through the labor of suing the school for discrimination have inspired so many students to learn about and to challenge the oppressive structures that affect us.”

Dang said one part of the trial that stood out to her was how the University tried to discredit Lawsin and Kurashige. 

“I think another part of the case that was extremely salient was talks about literally pulling anything to discredit these professors," Dang said. "Things from mental health to weaponizing a lot of people against each other and they would literally just do anything other than actually own up to what has happened.”

She said while the jury decided in favor of the University, her and the other activists supporting Lawsin and Kurashige will continue to hold the University accountable. 

“This is just the beginning, right," Dang said. "We learn about oppressive structures that silence Asian Americans in our A/PIA studies classes and this just shows how it comes to light in a way that is extremely close to us. And so we will move forward expressing that the students have their eyes on this University and their actions towards Asian American faculty and we will hold them accountable for that...our community isn’t going to give up and we’re not going to be submissive in this, unlike how they clearly expect us to be.”