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University took unlawful adverse employment action
U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division
Employment – Retaliation, Race Discrimination
Angela W. DeBose v. University of South Florida, University of South Florida Board of Trustees, and Ellucian Company, L.P.,
September 26, 2018
Angela W. DeBose (Female, 53 Years)
Angela W. DeBose;
Angela W. DeBose
Ellucian Co. L.P.,
University of South Florida,
University of South Florida Board of Trustees
Richard C. McCrea Jr.;
Greenberg Traurig, LLP;
University of South Florida Board of Trustees ■ None reported;
Ellucian Co. L.P., University of South Florida
On May 19, 2015, plaintiff Angela DeBose, 53, a black woman and a registrar employed by the University of South Florida, had her employment terminated. DeBose had worked for the school since 1988 and became registrar in 1996. DeBose claimed that in the years before she left USF, she was subjected to racial discrimination and a hostile work environment. DeBose stated that she made several complaints about improper treatment and that her termination was a form of retaliation. In April 2015, DeBose had met with a representative from the Ellucian Co., a consulting firm. The consultant was ostensibly reviewing a computer system DeBose used as part of her job. DeBose alleged that the Ellucian representative wrote a disparaging and untrue report that USF used to justify her termination as registrar. DeBose sued USF (which was sued as the USF Board of Trustees) and Ellucian. The original complaint included numerous claims, including race discrimination; retaliation; conspiracy; defamation; negligent hiring, supervision, and retention; gross negligence; tortious interference; breach of contract; promissory estoppel; equitable estoppel; negligent misrepresentation, concealment, and fraud; civil conspiracy; intentional infliction of emotional distress; vicarious liability; and spoliation. Ellucian was dismissed via summary judgment. USF was thus the lone defendant at trial. The majority of the claims were dismissed, so the jury only considered the racial discrimination and retaliation claims. DeBose, who is a licensed attorney and represented herself pro se, alleged that her mistreatment began in late 2013 and early 2014. She claimed that during that time, she was told about an email smear campaign in which her co-workers supposedly made disparaging remarks about her, including comments on her race and gender. One co-worker allegedly stated that he was working with DeBose’s supervisor to get DeBose fired. DeBose further maintained that during this time, her supervisor become “more aggressive” toward her. DeBose met with the supervisor in the spring of 2014 and allegedly asked to see the emails in question. However, according to DeBose, the supervisor did not hand over the emails until about a year later. DeBose further claimed that she felt marginalized during 2014 and 2015. She claimed that the school’s degree audit system and academic tracking system, which had previously been under her control, were transferred to the information technology department in June 2014. DeBose alleged that this reduced the scope of her employment. DeBose also claimed that she would be told where certain meetings were, only to arrive at the location and find out the meeting was being held elsewhere. She claimed that neither she nor her assistant was told the correct location of the meetings. DeBose also accused her supervisor of disparaging her during one-on-one meetings in the on-campus coffee shop. DeBose claimed the supervisor was trying to goad her into a public outburst. DeBose additionally claimed that someone tampered with her office computer. DeBose additionally claimed that she was twice passed over for a position she was qualified for, the assistant vice president of enrollment planning and management. According to DeBose, the school originally brought in a white associate director from another school and hired him for a director position before moving him to the assistant vice president job. DeBose further alleged that another white USF employee was then elevated to the role a short time later. DeBose claimed that she was more qualified than this employee due to the latter’s narrower experience. DeBose also claimed the school did not tell her about the job opening until it was already filed, so she did not have a chance to apply for the assistant vice president position. DeBose made a verbal discrimination complaint to her supervisor in June 2014. When nothing changed, she filed a formal complaint with her school’s office of diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity. In late 2014, she also filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. According to DeBose, she met with her supervisor and another black employee in January 2015 about implementing a shared service model. DeBose later received a written reprimand that stated that the black employee had accused DeBose of calling her a “little girl” during the meeting. DeBose claimed that she never criticized the black co-worker. She maintained that the co-worker conspired with the supervisor to make up the story to get DeBose fired. DeBose presented emails that she alleged showed evidence of this conspiracy. Also in early 2015, the Ellucian consultant came to USF and met with several employees, including DeBose. The consultant then submitted a report stating that the registrar’s office was, among other things, “not willing to encompass change.” The consultant further alleged that DeBose refused to answer questions and forbid associates in her office from attending the meeting with the consultant. DeBose denied these allegations, claiming that one associate was at the meeting and that the other was invited but could not attend due to a conflict. DeBose also argued that the consultant was brought on for an “urgent” post-implementation assessment of a computer system that had been implemented years earlier. DeBose further maintained that she answered all of the consultant’s questions and even emailed the consultant after the meeting to provide additional information. DeBose thus concluded that the meeting was a set-up to give the school an excuse to fire her. DeBose further argued that she was never given a chance to file a grievance following her termination. She also claimed that she received a job offer from another school, the University of North Florida, shortly after leaving USF. However, according to DeBose, the offer was rescinded after the USF provost told a UNF representative that DeBose was “toxic” and “uncollaborative.” The defense maintained that DeBose was not fired but instead just did not have her contract renewed. The defense further argued that if DeBose was terminated, the termination was justified due to her behavior. The defense claimed that the written reprimand and the Ellucian report justified their actions. The defense further maintained that the reprimand was appropriate because the DIEO had investigated the incident with the co-worker after DeBose’s termination and found no reason to doubt the co-worker’s allegations. The defense also denied that DeBose was passed over for the promotion due to her race. The defense maintained that the individuals who got the assistant vice president job over DeBose were better qualified than she was.
DeBose was able to obtain a new job within a year of leaving USF. However, her new job did not pay as much as her previous one did. She thus sought recovery of her lost wages and benefits.
The jury found that DeBose was discharged from her employment at USF, and that her race was a motivating factor in this discharge. However, it also found that the school would have discharged her regardless of her race. The jury additionally determined that DeBose engaged in a protected activity and that USF took an adverse employment action against DeBose because of that activity. The jury found that DeBose sustained damages as a result of this adverse action, and she was awarded $310,500, all for lost earnings and benefits. While the jury also found in DeBose’s favor on her disparate-treatment claim, the award was solely for the retaliation claim.
Elizabeth A. Kovachevich
Plaintiff’s counsel has filed motions for fees, costs and an award of front pay.
This report is based on information that was provided by DeBose. Additional information was gleaned from court documents. The USF Board of Trustees’ counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls, and Ellucian’s counsel was not asked to contribute.