Lehigh met a predetermined deadline to file for summary judgment on Nov. 22. The lawsuit involves a professor who claims the university dismissed her claims of sexual harassment. (Emily Hu/B&W Staff)

Lehigh files for summary judgment in lawsuit involving professor

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Lehigh met the predetermined deadline to file for summary judgment on Nov. 22, in a lawsuit involving Monica Miller, according to court documents.

A summary judgment is used to expedite a civil case without a full trial by jury when all the basic facts of the case are agreed upon. The judge has set a deadline of Dec. 6, for when he will make a ruling on the motion for summary judgment. Though an initial trial date was scheduled for Jan. 21, 2020, a new trial date would be issued should any portion of the case survive summary judgment, according to court documents.

Miller is the associate professor of religion and Africana studies who alleged in March 2019 in her federal lawsuit that she was sexually harassed by James Peteron, the former director of Africana studies, and that the university dismissed her claims to maintain its reputation. 

Peterson was placed on leave in November 2017 and resigned in January 2018. Miller is currently employed by the university.

While Miller claims she was forced to take Peterson’s job responsibilities with no additional compensation after he was placed on leave, Lehigh alleges Miller “agreed” to cover the remaining five weeks of Peterson’s class and offered to grant her a “course off” in the future. A Nov. 8, 2017, email included in the court documents, also shows Provost Pat Farrell thanking Miller for filling in the position. 

“First, thank you for stepping in to James’ class and to support his independent study students. This is a big ask — are you OK with it? From where I sit you rarely say ‘no’ — and you can if we’re asking something that isn’t reasonable or sustainable for you,” Farrell wrote to Miller.

Court documents also reveal hostility and confusion in the Africana studies department after Kwame Essien took over as the program’s interim director in January 2018. Lehigh alleges Miller criticized Essien to university leadership, failed to update Essien on the status of various programs and rebuffed attempts by then-Dean Donald Hall to meet. Miller testified that she continued to endure “generalized harassment” from department faculty. 

The court documents state that Miller filed a complaint against the university with Title IX Coordinator Karen Salvemini with the Office for Civil Rights around May 1, 2018. Miller alleges the university covered for Peterson in light of monitoring by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights after racially hostile incidents on campus. 

Miller and Peterson are both black.

The university also alleges that Miller abruptly left campus in April 2018 and failed to teach classes and neglected her duties as the director of the women, gender and sexuality studies program. After Miller allegedly had no contact with the university all summer, “the university lawfully and legitimately decided to remove Dr. Miller as director of the program effective Aug. 14, 2018,” according to court documents. 

Lehigh asserts that Miller was never treated differently on the basis of her race or gender.

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