Only eight months after it became the first higher educational facility in Michigan to fall victim to a sexual harassment and discrimination verdict, the University will soon go to court again to defend itself against more accusations of discrimination.
English and American culture Prof. Betty Bell, a faculty member since 1993, is suing the University, as well as English Prof. Lincoln Faller and English and American culture Prof. Alan Wald, on counts of race discrimination, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is asking for $25,000 in damages and compensation.
In a brief written by Bell’s attorney Christine Green, Bell claims her troubles started in 1994 when she was asked to establish the Native American Studies Program. She said she was responsible for developing and teaching most of the new classes, in addition to fulfilling other requirements, as an assistant professor without any assistance or additional compensation. She said this caused a delay in filing her application for tenure as well as emotional distress, which caused her to take a medical leave of absence.
“Plaintiff’s responsibilities in that regard were far in excess of those imposed upon other assistant professors,” Green wrote in the brief. “Furthermore, (she) earned approximately $11,500 less annually than Prof. Tomas Almaguer, the Director of Latina/o Studies, who, unlike (her), had the assistance of numerous untenured and tenured faculty.”
But University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said during Bell’s tenure as an assistant professor, she had one of the highest salaries of her rank in both departments.
“Prof. Bell has been supported by the University throughout her career, including the granting of tenure over a year ago,” Peterson said. “Professors Faller and Wald … have supported her requests for additional leaves and research assistance beyond that typically afforded faculty in those departments.”
But Bell said while the University sponsored the teaching of Native American literature; it helped perpetuate a “marginalized environment” regarding various forms of ethnic literature, including Native American.
“(Faller) excluded Native American Literatures from the External Ethnic Literature Reviews: (Bell) advocated the inclusion of Native American literature within the Department’s reviews of its ethnic literatures, and was retaliated against for having done so, by among other things, being given a minimum raise in the same year she won the Amoco teaching award,” the brief said.
But Wald countered in a written statement that the University has come a long way in promoting diversity and the under-representation of course offerings in various fields, including Native American Studies, Asian/Pacific American Studies and Latino/a Studies.
“There are now tenured directors with long-term commitments in each of these three ethnic studies programs; when I assumed office there was only one,” Wald said, adding that the number of faculty in each of these programs has grown significantly.
Bell also claims she was the victim of sexual harassment and an uncomfortable environment perpetuated by both Faller and Wald. In the brief, there are several references to alleged remarks made by Faller insulting Native Americans.
“After reading (her) novel about three generations of Cherokee women, in which a girl is raped by her stepfather, Prof. Faller joked, ‘Don’t all Cherokee — their fathers?’ the brief said.
In other alleged instances, after offering alcohol to Bell, which she refused, Faller asked, “What kind of Indian are you?”
Faller said he is disappointed about the lawsuit because he said all of the complaints are false. “Any allegation she makes about my supposed behavior is not true. … I’m confident that if this goes to trial, this will be demonstrated.”
In addition, complaints were made against Wald, whom Bell said she had a personal and sexual relationship with from September 1993 to February 1994 and then again in 1997. Bell said there have been numerous times when Wald insulted her to her face and gossiped to other faculty members about her. Bell said these actions have strongly affected her career. “The Plaintiff has sustained injuries, including loss of earnings and earning capacity, loss of career opportunities, (and) loss of reputation in the academic community,” the brief said.
Wald said he was also very disturbed by the lawsuit. He acknowledges he had a very close friendship with Bell, and has supported her during her career. He said her accusations against him are “without foundation and fact.”
“This is someone who has made an important contribution to American Culture,” Wald said. “I supported her before tenure, I supported her during tenure and I supported her after tenure. … She’s attacking people who were close friends.”