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 school.
“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 lawsuit.
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 money.
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 allegations.
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 pending litigation.