Besieged, Bothered, and Bewildered: Affirmative Action Director Charges Pitt-Johnstown President with Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation

By Green, Jason | Black Issues in Higher Education, August 20, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Besieged, Bothered, and Bewildered: Affirmative Action Director Charges Pitt-Johnstown President with Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation


Green, Jason, Black Issues in Higher Education


Affirmative action director charges Pitt-Johnstown president with discrimination, harassment and retaliation

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- According to the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown's affirmative action director, the institution's president told her that he did not believe in affirmative action and would do everything possible to avoid implementing its principles.

Ensuing events have led Clea Patrick Hollis to U.S. District Court, where she is suing the school and its president, Dr. Albert L. Etheridge, for race and sex discrimination. The suit contends that Hollis was harassed, isolated, and excluded from functions at the southwestern Pennsylvania branch of the University of Pittsburgh as a way tv) prevent her from doing her job.

Hollis is seeking compensation for lost earnings, damages for emotional distress, and legal fees. She is also seeking punitive damages. On the advice of her attorneys, she has refused to comment publicly on the suit.

In the lawsuit, Hollis said she was demoted from the university cabinet to a mid-level administrator, and her position was reduced from full- to part-time. The three-count civil action charges Etheridge and the university with sex discrimination in hiring; race discrimination in employment; and retaliatory harassment, deprivation of civil rights and sex discrimination in employment; and sexual harassment and retaliation.

Etheridge refused to comment on the allegations. Ron Cichowicz, assistant news and information director for the University of Pittsburgh system, said attorneys had not been served and could not comment on the matter.

Perceptions and Realities

William Savage, the affirmative action director of the university system's main campus, said that the University of Pittsburgh strives for diversity at all five of its campuses.

Savage said the system has in place efforts to hire minority faculty and staff members. Broad searches are conducted that target minority groups. In cases where a search committee is used, the membership of that committee is chosen in an effort to represent diverse backgrounds.

Additionally, the institution aggressively recruits minority students, offering grants to lure them into the system, said Savage.

"The university, as a whole, would like to have the regional campuses as diverse as possible," he said.

However, Savage concedes that the Johnstown campus is not as diverse as it could be. Last fall, 97 percent of the students enrolled there were White; 1.5 percent were Black. At the main campus, more than 12 percent of the student population was African American. In Cambria County, where Pitt-Johnstown is situated, African Americans comprise 2.3 percent of the population, according to the 1990 census.

Minorities are not well represented in some faculty and staff positions at Pitt-Johnstown as well. All four top-level administrators who report directly to Etheridge are White. And just 2 percent of the campus' 150 full-time faculty are Black.

Student Melvin Turner, who is Black, says he has not found racism to be a problem at Pitt-Johnstown, despite the fact that he received harassing, non-stop telephone calls for hours on end during his freshman year, and being called derogatory, racist names while attending classes.

"I don't pay any mind to it," he said. "That's just the way I take it."

A "Chilly" Climate in Need of Change

But at least one former Pitt-Johnstown employee said she saw problems with the way the campus is run. Linda Daniels, an African American who served as the campus' assistant vice president of student affairs before leaving last fall, called the college an "all-boys kind of plaice" and said a "chilly" environment existed. Now the director of multicultural programs at Ohio University in Athens, Daniels said there was a buffer between her and Etheridge -- unlike with Hollis, who had to deal more directly with the president.

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