A civil lawsuit alleging unlawful discrimination and retaliation against Lehigh University could head to trial Jan. 21, 2020.
Monica Miller, an associate professor of religion and Africana studies, filed her lawsuit in federal court on March 7. She alleges she was continuously sexually harassed by James Peterson, the former director of Africana studies, for three years since she was hired in 2013. Peterson was placed on leave in November 2017 and resigned in January 2018.
Miller alleges the university dismissed her reports of harassment in an effort to maintain the university’s reputation as one of diversity, in light of monitoring from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights after incidents of racial hostility on campus. The lawsuit claims Lehigh made Miller a “sacrificial lamb to its own racial agenda.” In order to cover up for Peterson’s departure, Lehigh made Miller “the substitute black faced figurehead,” the lawsuit alleges, which also claims Miller was forced to take on Peterson’s job responsibilities after he was placed on leave.
Miller and Peterson are both black. Miller is still employed at the university.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania set a trial date for Jan. 21, 2020. The judge did leave open the possibility for summary judgment, if either party requests it. A summary judgment is when the judge rules on the case instead of a jury. If no summary judgment is requested, a jury will be selected.
If either party requests a summary judgment, that ruling will be made by Dec. 6. An amended trial deadline will then occur if any portion of the case survives summary judgment, since the judge doesn’t have to rule on the entire case even if summary judgment is requested.
Lori Friedman, Lehigh’s director of media relations, did not respond to a request for comment.
Miller is seeking actual and punitive damages, as well as pay and benefits from the extra job responsibilities Lehigh allegedly forced Miller to take on. The suit claims that Miller was not compensated for her new duties.
About two weeks after the lawsuit was made public, Lehigh students held a silent protest on Packer Avenue to urge accountability from university for its alleged handling of Miller’s case and sexual harassment on campus in general.