Wednesday, March 11, 2020

3 white Wayne State University Press employees accuse WSU of racial discrimination

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2020 at 3:02 PM

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Three white Wayne State University Press employees filed separate complaints alleging the university discriminated on the basis of race and retaliation against them, according to Publishers Weekly.

The three complaints — filed on March 3 with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by editor-in-chief Annie Martin, editor Kristin Harpster, and marketing and sales manager Emily Nowak — allege that Reeser, who is white, “on or about 2018 attempted to interfere with the hiring process” by indicating that only African Americans should be considered for open positions. The three employees then told HR that interim director Tara Reeser made “racially bias[ed] requests.”

The three also stated that Reeser and Jon Cawthorne, dean of WSU's library system, were “involved in an inappropriate relationship,” and that the employees had also reported this to HR. The three indicated that after voicing their complaints about Reeser’s demands to hire African American prospective job candidates, as well as regarding Reeser and Cawthorne's "unusual personal relationship," they were fired “without explanation, a move we believe to be retaliatory."

Each employee’s complaint ends with the following statement: “I believe I was subjected to retaliation and discharged due to my race, Caucasian, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.”

The three added to their allegations by releasing the following joint statement on March 10 through their lawyer, Jennifer McManus, of the law firm Fagan McManus:

“Filing an EEOC complaint charging WSU with retaliation and discrimination is the last thing any of us wanted to do. We are happy to be reinstated, but our firing still hasn’t been explained. Given WSU’s stunning lack of transparency, we feel they left us no choice. We still don’t know why we were fired in the first place." They also stated that “at least two of our three jobs were either quietly filled by or in the advanced stages of being filled by African-American candidates who, while talented in many ways, have little experience in the business of book publishing, marketing, or acquisitions.” 

Additionally, their joint statement read, “We are not opposed in any form or fashion to working for or hiring African-Americans or any other people of color. In fact, the need for further diversity and inclusion in the non-profit sector and publishing in general is a widely discussed issue within the university and the publishing industry. What we are opposed to is our terminations and the subsequent lack of answers from WSU. They refuse to give us any assurances that what happened—and again, we still don’t know what happened—will not happen again, not to us, not to our colleagues, not to our vendors and partners, and not to our authors. We want to hold leadership accountable. We hope our EEOC filing advances a productive conversation.”

After the three were fired, an open letter signed by 85 authors and individuals who are part of the university, as well as another open letter signed by 17 members of the WSU Press advisory council, were shared. Following those, on Feb. 21 Martin, Harpster, and Nowak were all rehired. They returned to the office on Feb. 25.

Wayne State University now must provide the three employees and their lawyer with information on what led to them being fired.

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