Professor Alleges Discrimination In Lawsuit Against Ohio University

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Ohio University is being sued by a professor who contends that sexual harassment investigations against him were illegally tainted by discrimination because he is Black and male.

Yusuf Kalyango argues in his civil rights lawsuit that the university violated its own policies on multiple occasions throughout its investigations of two harassment claims involving female students.

The investigations resulted in recommendations that Kalyango be stripped of his tenure as a full professor in the Scripps School of Journalism, a lengthy process that is now in its final stage. Meanwhile, Kalyango is on paid administrative leave and prohibited from having any contact with students.

Yusuf Kalyango, a journalism professor, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Ohio University alleging discrimination in its investigation of sexual harassment claims against him.

Kalyango’s lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court, argues that he would not be on the verge of losing his position at OU if not for his race, gender and national origin. Kalyango was born in Africa but is a U.S. citizen.

The lawsuit describes OU as “the unusual employer who discriminates against men” and contends that if Kalyango had been white, American-born or female “he would not have been treated in the manner described.”

The lawsuit claims that other OU professors who were white and American-born and who committed more serious offenses were treated much more leniently when it came to their punishments.

Kalyango is seeking reinstatement to his position as a full tenured professor and more than $75,000 in financial compensation and punitive damages against the university. He also wants a court order preventing the university from engaging in the kind of discrimination he claims he faced.

OU spokeswoman Carly Leatherwood said Tuesday that the university cannot comment on the lawsuit and is in the process of reviewing it and preparing to file a formal response in court.

The lawsuit says that Kalyango has been left in a state of limbo because he can’t do his usual work for the university and can’t look for another job either.

“OU’s protracted and discriminatory process has affected both me and my young children emotionally, professionally and financially for more than two years … and counting,” Kalyango told WOUB Wednesday. My immediate goal is to seek fairness, racial justice and to put an end to this disproportionate and draconian de-tenuring process.”

The university’s actions against Kalyango followed investigations into two sexual harassment complaints. In July 2017, OU graduate student Tess Herman filed a complaint against Kalyango with the university’s Title IX office, which investigates civil rights claims.

Herman claimed that Kalyango retaliated against her after she refused his suggestion that they share a room together for a night while working together on a program in Africa in June 2017. Herman alleged that after the program was over, Kalyango falsified her job performance reviews to make her look less competent.

In his lawsuit, Kalyango denies ever suggesting to Herman that the two share a room. He contends the sexual harassment claim was filed in retaliation against him because he reprimanded Herman over mistakes in a financial report she prepared for the Africa trip.

The investigation into Herman’s claim led to the reopening of a sexual harassment claim against Kalyango made several years earlier. That claim involved a female undergraduate student who participated in a study-abroad program in Africa with Kalyango in 2011. Another student in the program filed a complaint alleging that Kalyango had acted inappropriately toward the female student.

WOUB is not naming the student in this second investigation because of a general policy against naming people without their consent when they come forward with accusations of sexual harassment. Herman is named because she filed a lawsuit in federal court, making her name and her accusations very public.

The initial investigation into the 2011 claim culminated in a report early in 2012 that found no evidence of wrongdoing by Kalyango.

The investigator who processed Herman’s complaint tracked down the female student from the other case, according to Kalyango’s lawsuit. After their visit, the lawsuit says, she recanted her original statement denying harassment and agreed to talk about what happened during her time with Kalyango in Africa and on another trip.

She alleged that Kalyango made arrangements for them to share a hotel room together and said she had been reluctant to talk about it during the first investigation for fear of retaliation because she was still a student at the time.

The investigation into Herman’s complaint and the reopened investigation into the other student’s case both ended in reports that concluded Kalyango had engaged in sexual harassment.

In both cases, the university convened a faculty committee to review the reports and make a recommendation about punishment. The committees in both cases recommended that Kalyango be stripped of his tenure.

Kalyango’s lawsuit alleges that the university violated state and federal policies and its own policies governing investigations into civil rights complaints.

For example, the investigation into Herman’s complaint took just over a year, with the report released in August 2018, the same month the university adopted new procedures making it easier to de-tenure or dismiss professors.

Under state, federal and university policies, the complaint should have been investigated and resolved within 90 days, according to the lawsuit. Because it took so long to complete the Herman investigation, the lawsuit says, Kalyango’s review by the faculty committee was done under the new policy.

Kalyango contends in his lawsuit that he wasn’t allowed to cross-examine witnesses or question his accuser, or have someone else do this on his behalf, in either of the cases against him. He claims that evidence he submitted in his own defense was ignored or disregarded, including witnesses who supported his account of what happened.

“The policy of Ohio University has been to accept uncorroborated statements of females to the detriment of non-Caucasian, non-native male, either students or professors, regardless of the truth or falsity of those statements,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit contends that the university’s handling of the complaints against Kalyango and the severity of his punishment are evidence of discrimination against him because of his race, national origin and gender.

According to the lawsuit, at least three white, American-born professors or educators at OU were punished only with some required training and/or limited suspension after they were “accused of, found liable for, and/or charged criminally” for conduct worse than what was described in the accusations against Kalyango.

Meanwhile, at least two minority professors were de-tenured, let go or otherwise forced out of the university for conduct similar to or less egregious than that of their white, American-born peers, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges that Kalyango had requested in writing that the faculty committee reviewing the reopened case have some diversity among its members and include someone with experience teaching abroad. Instead, the lawsuit says, the committee members were all white with no study-abroad experience.

In January 2019, Herman filed her own civil rights lawsuit against Kalyango and the university based on her sexual harassment complaint. The university settled the lawsuit out of court in May for $90,000.