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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4 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.

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