Professor’s Discrimination Claim Against University of Idaho May Proceed, Rules Judge

August 18, 2021

LEWISTON, Idaho — A federal judge says a discrimination lawsuit filed against the University of Idaho by a UI College of Law professor can move forward.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill rejected a request from the University of Idaho to throw out the lawsuit last week, The Lewiston Tribune reported.

Professor Shaakirrah Sanders was hired to teach at the College of Law in 2011 and and in 2018 became the first African American to achieve the rank of full professor at the school. She filed the lawsuit several years ago, alleging that she was unfairly denied an associate dean position in 2017, that she faced a variety of unfair conditions and terms of employment, and that school officials retaliated against her when she complained about the treatment.

The University of Idaho asked the court to throw out the lawsuit before it went to trial, contending in part that Sanders failed to file the complaint on time and that she failed to show that there was a valid dispute about the facts of the case.

In his ruling first reported by the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal, Winmill rejected the university’s argument, noting that UI’s Office of Civil Rights and Investigations received at least 35 reports of sexual or racial discrimination at the College of Law during a nine-year period starting in 2011. Those complaints triggered a formal review that included interviews with nearly three dozens staffers and faculty members.

According to the review, Winmill wrote, several faculty members felt that “females are disproportionately `shut down’ or admonished by those in the senior leadership group for the aggressive communication,” and that gender bias affected “who is allowed to speak at meetings and in what way.” The leadership of the College of Law changed after the review.

Winmill did agree to dismiss two claims based on alleged violations of state whistleblower and academic freedom laws, because he said the university is immune from lawsuits in federal court regarding state law.

The University of Idaho didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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