A brief filed in November by University lawyers contends that sexual harassment and discrimination claims made by English and American culture Prof. Betty Bell against English Prof. Lincoln Faller and English and American culture Prof. Alan Wald are not valid.
Bell’s attorney, Christine Green, filed the lawsuit against the defendants last September on four counts of race discrimination, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is asking for $25,000 in damages and compensation. The lawsuit was filed in Washtenaw County Circuit Court.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said both sides are in the middle of a discovery phase – preparing to go to trial – but she is unsure when the case go to trial.
“That’s up to the court, so we’re waiting to hear a scheduling date,” Peterson said.
In a September brief Bell said her difficulties with the University began during her second year of teaching in 1994 when she was asked to create and direct a Native American Studies Program. Bell alleged she was solely responsible for developing and teaching most of the new classes without any assistance or additional compensation, while also fulfilling other requirements of an assistant professor. She said the amount of work she undertook overburdened her and therefore delayed part of her tenure application process. She also suffered emotional distress, which caused her to take a leave of absence.
“Plantiff’s responsibilities in that regard were far in excess of those imposed upon other Assistant Professors,” The brief stated, “(Her) excessive responsibilities, the defendants’ failure to recruit additional faculty, as well as the failure of defendant to provide assistance and mentorship, delayed and interfered with (the) plaintiff’s ability to achieve tenure, and had a deleterious effect on her career as a scholar and as a novelist.”
But in their brief, the defendants argue while Bell played an important role in the development of the NASP, she had much assistance. The brief also said these responsibilities were not imposed on Bell, and that they did not seem to be burdensome on her.
“The official administrative responsibilities were not excessive and they were not imposed upon (the) plaintiff. Moreover, (the) plaintiff’s administrative responsibilities have to be viewed in the context of the advantages which were provided to her over the years, in the form of course releases, leaves, summer ninths and financial assistance.”
In addition, they said Bell was the highest paid assistant professor in both her departments from 1994 until 2001 when she resigned as director of the Native American Studies Program of the English Department.
In Bell’s brief, there are also claims regarding sexual harassment and discrimination initiated by Faller and Wald. There were several references to alleged remarks made by Faller insulting Native Americans.
Wayne State University Law School Dean Joan Mahoney said many sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits take on a “he said, she said” feeling. She said the obstacle of sexual harassment lawsuits is not just determining whether someone’s claims are valid, but also if they constitute sexual harassment.
“It’s a difficult area. Sometimes the question is not who did what, but whether that rises to the level of sexual harassment,” Mahoney said. “If it goes to trial, a jury simply has to decide which is the more credible witness.”
Bell’s brief cites one instance in which Faller allegedly made an insensitive remark to Bell. After offering alcohol to Bell, which she refused because she said she did not like alcohol, Faller reportedly asked, “What kind of Indian are you?”
But in Miller’s brief, Faller denies that he made those remarks and added that he had repeatedly seen Bell consume alcohol – such as wine – at parties.
In addition, she said Wald, with whom she had a personal and sexual relationship from September 1993 to February 1994, allegedly gossiped about her with other faculty members and also insulted her to her face.
“The Plaintiff has sustained injuries, including loss of earnings and earning capacity, loss of career opportunities (and) loss of reputation in the academic community,” Green wrote.
Wald claims he had an erratic relationship with Bell after they ended their relationship in 1994. He said there were times where she refused to talk with him and other times when she made efforts to reconcile with him and become friends. He said he never insulted or talked about her behind her back.
“Several of the efforts at reconciliation consisted of invitations to come to (the) plaintiff’s house for drinks, and on one occasion, perhaps the ‘1997’ to which plaintiff refers, there was a limited sexual encounter, but no resumption of a relationship.” Miller wrote in the brief.
He also refuted a claim by Bell that he had tried to exploit her over the years. He said he was never in a position of power over her until July 2000 when he became director of the American Culture Program, adding that once he became director he always treated with her respect.
“At no time during his term as Director of American Culture – the only time when Wald had any ‘power’ over plaintiff – did he ever request that plaintiff take on any important assignments,” the defendants’ brief said, adding that all of Bell’s assignments prior to her January 2002 sabbatical had been made prior to Wald’s term or they were decided by former LSA Dean Shirley Neuman, or Bell herself.