Professor sues Lehigh in sexual misconduct scandal

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Monica Miller, an associate professor of religion and Africana studies, filed a lawsuit against Lehigh University on Thursday, March 7, 2019. Miller filed the lawsuit due to the sexual harassment claims she made against former Lehigh professor James Peterson. (Courtesy of Lehigh University website)

A Lehigh University professor of religion and Africana studies has filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging that she was subject to unlawful discrimination and retaliation due to her race and gender after reporting she claims she was sexually harassed by former Lehigh professor James Braxton Peterson, according to lehighvalleylive.com.

Monica Miller, who is still employed by the university, filed her suit in federal court on March 7, alleging that the university dismissed her allegations against Peterson and gave him special cover despite knowing the allegations of sexual harassment as early as 2011. Peterson, the former director of Africana studies, was placed on leave in November 2017 before resigning in January 2018.

According to lehighvalleylive.com, Miller is seeking actual and punitive damages, as well as pay and benefits from the extra job responsibilities that Lehigh forced Miller to take on while Peterson was on paid administrative leave during an investigation into Peterson. The suit claims that Miller was not paid extra money for her new duties.

Miller alleges that Lehigh dismissed her sexual harassment claims in an effort to promote the university’s image as racially diverse and accepting institution in light of monitoring by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights after racial hostility and vandalism at the UMOJA house in 2013.

Miller and Peterson are both black.

The lawsuit details Peterson’s alleged repeated inappropriate advances toward Miller that she repeatedly denied, including asking her to sit on his lap at a restaurant when Miller came to do an interview with the university, attempting to kiss her, and rubbing her leg underneath the restaurant table after Miller refused to sit on his lap.   

Over the next three years after applying for the Lehigh position in 2013, Miller said in the suit that she was continuously sexually harassed.

After a Sabbatical from July 2016 to July 2017, Miller allegedly returned to Lehigh to aggression from colleagues and faculty members.

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12 Comments

  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    More responsibilities for the same pay, where does that not occur?

    What is University policy relating to how complainants can deal with co-workers who have professor Peterson like proclivities. There goes any chance he had of becoming a future Lehigh commencement speaker.

      • Robert F Davenport Jr on

        Thanks for your googling work. Section seven seems fairly vague to me but well intentioned. The article seems to indicate that Ms. Miller does not think that the University (U) took any action or actions that were meaningful to her. The U is in a bad position because it is subject to being sued by both parties. The trial would be interesting but I would think that it may be settled before such.

        “Miller alleges that Lehigh dismissed her sexual harassment claims in an effort to promote the university’s image as racially diverse and accepting institution in light of monitoring by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights after racial hostility and vandalism at the UMOJA house in 2013.” The sense of dismissed is that the U more or less ignored Ms. Miller’s complaints. That the U desires the “image as racially diverse and accepting institution”, I feel, is a given. Any propagation of news contrary to that would be viewed negatively by the U. A settlement would probably suit the U and may suit Ms. Miller. A trial result may be bad news for one of the parties but hopefully would expose more of the truths in the matter. Was the U remiss or did Ms. Miller want more than was warranted.

        “After a Sabbatical from July 2016 to July 2017, Miller allegedly returned to Lehigh to aggression from colleagues and faculty members.” All change is bad but sometimes necessary. The U has promoted diversity in it’s students, faculty and curricula. Add alumni to that and you will find many who do not want change, think change is to fast or think change is not fast enough. The policy seems adequate but the devil is in the details of it’s application with real humans.

        I deplore the sexual harassment and hope that the U had handled the situation appropriately.

    • Amy Charles ‘89 on

      That’s…why she’s going to court and making her case, even though it’s a massive, expensive, and stressful PITA to do that. So you can cut that glowering stuff right out, TWC.

      If there’s anything to this at all, though, it will definitely be in Lehigh’s interests to settle fast. I get contacted now and then by people who’re interested in Lehigh, but who’ve had concerns about various things they’ve seen in the recruiting. And yeah, I can confirm that Lehigh does not need more “hello we’re wealthy bigots on a lushly-forested pomp-and-circumstance campus concerned about pretty much money” as part of its rep, because people don’t need me to get that message. It’s already sitting right out there (and you guys running your racist, misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic mouths in comments certainly don’t help).

      I’ll look forward to Dr. Miller’s book.

  2. A Tired of PC Alumnus on

    The serious questions that should be asked is why James Braxton Peterson and Monica Miller were hired at all.

    The Africa Studies program is a preposterous farce along with the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) program.

    Several years ago linguists professor John McWhorter appeared in a documentary Indoctrinate­-U. See:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWnNBiBqLzQ

    He appears at around 15:00 in the video where he says:

    Most African-American studies departments elegantly teach you how to be a victim. They teach you how you are a victim in ways you didn’t think about. You nurture the feeling among the black students that it is a racist campus. You pay people basically to tell them that in the classroom and in administrative offices. Obviously, something is wrong, but you get to satisfy your sense of being a noble person by pretending that the black students are victims. That is something that now is not only a personality trait but it is institutionalized on the university campus.

    The same can be said for the WGSS program.

    The course contents are for the most part a laughable joke.

    This link provides a George Booth cartoon that satirizes the content of courses taught in universities nowadays.

    https://condenaststore.com/featured/sarahs-grades-are-excellent-she-got-a-george-booth.html

    Lehigh would do well to abolish both of these programs.

    • Tori Campbell 2020 on

      I think you should watch Thirteenth and maybe that will help you to understand the other side a little bit better: https://www.netflix.com/title/80091741

      It basically describes how slavery was ended with the 13th amendment, but it still allowed another form of slavery to exist within the prison system. This explains a lot of the difficulties that minorities, most specifically black Americans, face in the US. These inequalities are permeated throughout the entire system and results in a society where people of color face more difficulties than white Americans.

  3. Maybe the lesson here is that institutions like Lehigh need to figure out how they can make diversity a strength rather than a statistical box they need to check so they don’t look bad

    • Robert F Davenport Jr on

      One wonders if when the administration makes decisions, it tries to determine the actual effects of that decision along with it desired would be the effects. This seems to be the implication of the recent B&W article at 10:16 AM today: Lehigh off-campus students respond to SouthSide Commons construction. There is a student – administration disconnect when Lehigh is trying to address the housing situation and students see aural, visual and physical irritants.

      The administration would do well to get input from students, who are intelligent, when changes are made. Students would do well to respect the experience and responsibilities of the administration. Working together should result in a better Lehigh, An mostly adversarial relationship will degrade Lehigh’s reputation. Alumni also have a stake in the discussions.

      Today’s culture has too much of “trying to get what you want” versus “trying to get what you need”, we are all affected by it.

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