HARRISBURG – A senior adviser for the organization Workplace
Fairness believes issues unique to academia likely contributed to multiple
lawsuits being filed against Lock Haven University by an employee of the
“Academia is uniquely distinguished from a private
workplace,” Workplace Fairness adviser Paula Brantner told the Pennsylvania Record. “You do have that
added protection of tenure.”
Joseph Patrick Guerriero filed a lawsuit in May in the U.S.
District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against Lock Haven
University of Pennsylvania and the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
In that complaint, Guerriero raised allegations of breach of contract,
discrimination, retaliation and violation of the Civil Rights Act and the
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
The plaintiff claimed that he was
passed over for a promotion, in part because of a previous discrimination
lawsuit he had filed. The university and Guerriero reached a $47,500 settlement
in connection with the earlier case. He was also awarded $600,000 in
compensatory damages in connection with a federal civil rights retaliation
In the complaint filed in May, Guerriero alleged that the
university and the PASSHE made false allegations against him, and he accused the
defendants of sexual harassment and creating a sexually hostile environment. He
said these factors affected his ability to advance his career and earn more
In addition, Guerriero said the defendants’ actions, and their refusal
to remedy the situation, hurt his reputation and standing in the community.
In a normal situation, Brantner said, most employees would
find another job if the behavior that prompted them to file a lawsuit against
their employer continued.
“I don’t think most people would be in a position to sue the
same employer over and over,” Brantner said. “Things probably wouldn’t have
been that stirred up for such a long time.”
Since the root of the allegations that led to the filing of
the original lawsuit appeared to have been the conduct of a Lock Haven athletic
director, Brantner said that official, and not the university itself, may have
been more to blame.
“The objective was to
get her out,” Brantner said. “It’s a level of dysfunction in the athletic department.
When there’s that level of tension and confrontation between director and assistant,
it adds to the volatility.”
Brantner said Lock Haven’s decision to settle the previous
lawsuit could have stemmed from the relatively small amount that was paid out
to Guerriero. Specifically, she said, the school may have had an incentive to
pay the smaller settlement amount and try to move past the original
Brantner pointed out that most lawsuits are settled, regardless
of the perception of merit, and most parties do not admit any liability as part
of a settlement.
Another underlying factor in the dispute could have been the
Title IX provision, which requires schools to offer a female counterpart for
male athletic program offerings, Brantner said. She said Title IX is “perceived
as taking away from men’s athletic programs,” although it was intended
to bring parity.
“That definitely causes conflict in a number of university
and college athletic programs,” Brantner said.
Both Lock Haven and the PASSHE declined to comment on the