A. Alfred Taubman, the namesake of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the University’s single largest donor, is being sued as a result of numerous sex discrimination allegations.
Taubman, 88, who is credited with conceptualizing the modern shopping mall, was sued for $29 million on Thursday on the basis of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination by 38-year-old flight attendant Nicole Rock. The plaintiff filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Taubman allegedly created a “burdensome and oppressive condition of employment” for Rock, according to the lawsuit. Rock was employed as a flight attendant by Taubman Air Terminals, Inc. — Taubman’s private airline — from March 2005 to February 2011.
Taubman’s office categorically denied the accusations against him.
“The allegations contained in the complaint filed in court this morning against A. Alfred Taubman are not true,” Taubman’s office wrote in a statement. “Mr. Taubman will address the complaint through the appropriate legal channels.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University has no comment on the lawsuit.
“Mr. Taubman has been a great friend to the University of Michigan,” Fitzgerald said. “We have nothing to add about this civil matter.”
Officials from The College of Architecture and Urban Planning declined to comment.
The suit alleges that on numerous occasions, Taubman seized Rock’s head and neck to coerce her into a kiss, forced his hands in her dress, grabbed her crotch, tore a hole in the crotch of her pantyhose and engaged in attempts for other unlawful sexual behavior. The suit refers to one particular instance in which Taubman pushed Rock on a bed in the rear cabin of a plane intending to perform oral sex on her, screaming “I said lay down.”
Rock reported complaints to her supervisor, who relayed the grievances to his supervisor, Kevin Malloey, Taubman’s executive assistant. Neither were “able to do anything to diminish, curb or in any way change” Taubman’s conduct, according to the lawsuit.
Rock reportedly rejected Taubman’s actions regularly, telling him “no,” “stop,” “you’re making me upset, nervous and scared” and “you’re hurting me” along with other objections detailed in the suit.
In 2009, Rock informed Taubman she was pregnant, and he allegedly proceeded to ask “numerous inappropriate and unacceptable questions” regarding her pregnancy. He also told her she was gaining weight and should have gotten an abortion, according to the suit.
Around December 2009, Rock’s doctor told her it was unsafe to be airborne while in her seventh month of pregnancy. The Taubman Company’s human resources department approved Rock’s maternity leave, which Taubman referred to as a “long vacation,” the suit states.
After giving birth in February, Rock was scheduled to return to work in April 2010, but was forced back in March. Upon her return, Taubman allegedly told Rock she was “selfish” to have a baby, stressing again that she should have had an abortion.
In February 2011, Rock went on short-term disability leave due to “extreme stress, anxiety, fearfulness and depression due to unlawful working conditions that she was being forced to endure,” according to the suit. During that time, she was forced to resign, and she currently remains out of work.
This is not Taubman’s first run in with the law. In 2002, he was accused of price fixing between rival British auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which Taubman owned until 2005. He was fined $7.5 million and imprisoned for anti-trust violations for 10 months. In his autobiography “Threshold Resistance,” Taubman maintained his innocence, stating his accuser lied under oath.
Taubman’s financial contributions to the University total $142 million, including $100 million toward the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute and $30 million to the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He has also funded institutes and centers at Harvard University, Brown University, Lawrence Technological University and the College for Creative Studies.
Forbes estimates that Taubman, who resides in Bloomfield Hills, is worth $2.9 billion — which was primarily procured through his success in developing the modern shopping mall.
Taubman attended the University of Michigan and Lawrence Technological Institute, but did not graduate from either school.