Former LaSalle professor says school terminated position after she reported sexual harassment

By Jim Boyle | Dec 18, 2014

A former assistant professor at LaSalle University says she lost her job after she declined

sexual advances from an established professor and reported the alleged misconduct to department heads, according to a civil rights suit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Whitney Postman, of Philadelphia, seeks a declaratory judgement stating that the actions by LaSalle University representatives violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act. She also demands compensatory and punitive damages against the school for past and future pain and suffering.

According to the complaint, Postman was hired by LaSalle University in 2012 as an assistant professor in the Speech Language Hearing Science Program at the School of Nursing and Health Sciences. The position, the suit says, was a tenure track to becoming a full professor that would eventually take over classroom duties from an established professor.

One of Postman's assignments was to assist that full-time professor in two lab sessions and two lecture classes per week. According to the complaint, Postman performed her duties well, despite being subjected to regular sexual harassment by the unnamed professor.

The suit says that the professor would ask Postman to say words in French in front of the class, then remark on how sexy she sounded. During lectures, the complaint says, the professor would stand very close to the plaintiff, put his arm around her and whisper in her ear.

According to the complaint, the situation escalated on the Friday before Columbus Day in 2012, when the professor invited Postman to attend a happy hour with the rest of the biology department, part of a regular tradition. The suit says that Postman felt pressure to attend the happy hour, but when it became time for the event to start no other faculty members appeared.

The professor claimed he forgot to invite anybody else, the suit says, then brought out a bottle of wine to celebrate the plaintiff's birthday. According to the complaint, the professor drank a substantial amount of wine before he took out a guitar and began singing love songs to Postman.

After asking about Postman's previous involvement with a dance group and commenting on the curves of the dancers, the professor sat close enough to the plaintiff that he was touching her, the suit says. Uncomfortable with the professor's advances, Postman left the lab with the professor saying she would never teach one of his classes again.

Ten days later, Postman received text messages from the professor, who allegedly admitted he made passes at her and felt ashamed. According to the complaint, the professor also described in the text messages how he had come to care about her in a romantic way.

When Postman reported the conduct to the department heads, they allegedly told her that the professor was important to the school and that she needed to forgive him and acknowledge the apology. She was also told to confront the professor directly, despite the plaintiff's reluctance because of his conduct toward her.

Om Nov. 2, 2012, Postman met with the professor out side his classroom and complained to him about his conduct. According to the suit, the professor became hostile and began placing blame on the plaintiff, saying that she drank wine and has been disrespectful and aggressive.

A few days later, the professor changed Postman's assignment to just one lecture per week, eliminating the more challenging and prestigious lab session. The department head told Postman to agree to the new assignment and allegedly began acting more hostile toward the plaintiff and criticizing her performance more harshly.

In January 2013, the department heads informed Postman that they had been receiving complaints about her and that she needed to compile a dossier of her accomplishments, which would be used during a special meeting with other faculty that would determine her further employment.

A few weeks later, Postman was told that her contract would not be renewed for the following academic year because of performance issues. The complaint says that the real reason for the termination was out of retaliation for her reporting of the professor. She tendered her resignation immediately and filed another complaint against the department.

According to the complaint, Postman was never informed of any corrective or remedial actions or investigations into her performance. She says that her gender was the motivating factor behind the discriminatory behavior and that the defendant acted with reckless indifference to her protected rights.

The plaintiff is represented by attorneys from Console Law Offices in Philadelphia.

The federal case ID is 2:14-cv-07125-ER.

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