11th Circuit rejects ASU appeal; questions who is in charge

Published: Sep. 3, 2013 at 8:06 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 26, 2013 at 11:36 PM CST
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File Photo: 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
File Photo: 11th Circuit Court of Appeals

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments from Alabama State University in a 23 page decision Tuesday.

The university appealed a jury's verdict last year when it awarded $1 million to three female former employees who raised allegations of sexual harassment and racism against a pair of ASU administrators.

In the ruling, the court criticized legal counsel for ASU for missing the court's deadlines for briefs and arguments. The court also used the ruling to sharply criticize ASU as an institution.

"We are left to speculate who is in charge at ASU" the court wrote toward the end of its ruling.

"We are unnerved by the apparent acquiescence to, if not outright condoning of, the abusive work environment created by its high-level employees. Such conduct simply has no place in a work environment, especially at a publicly funded university."

The three plaintiffs alleged that Chief Operating Officer John Knight, who is also a member of the Alabama House of Representatives, harbored an environment of sexual harassment. One of the plaintiffs alleged that Knight himself had asked her to "dance for him like she had at a party" and said her attempts to report the issues to the Human Resources Department at ASU were unsuccessful.

Two of the plaintiffs said another top administrator at Alabama State, LaVonette Bartley, would use racial slurs directed at them in the workplace.

In a statement, Alabama State University denied any all allegations of wrongdoing but did acknowledge that, "The court has spoken."

Dr. William Harris, Alabama State University's Interim President, wrote in a statement, "While Alabama State University has great respect for this court, we vehemently disagree with today's court ruling. We believe we raised legitimate concerns about the trial court's initial finding of fault. We continue to deny the discrimination as alleged by the plaintiffs in this case."

The statement continued, "We will address appropriately any allegation of discrimination lodged against any person at this University."

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