Legal Education

University of Idaho law professor sues school for racial and gender discrimination

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The University of Idaho Administration Building. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A black female law professor alleging race and gender discrimination in employment and education has filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Idaho College of Law.

In her complaint filed June 19 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, Shaakirrah Sanders, the first black person to receive tenure at Idaho Law, alleged she was twice passed over for associate dean positions, required to teach more than the standard 12 credit hours per semester and removed from the courses in her area of academic research, including constitutional law. According to her complaint, when Sanders complained to former dean Mark Adams, she was retaliated against. She is only the professor of color at the law school to have a full-professor position, the Idaho Statesman reports.

According to her lawsuit, Sanders first raised concerns with about equal treatment, discrimination and bias in July 2014. She joined the law school in 2011, following a visiting professor position at Seattle University School of Law, and earned tenure in 2016. Her scholarship focuses on criminal procedure, First Amendment law and torts, according to the complaint, and she’s chaired the university’s administrative hearing board and was a member of the college’s admissions committee.

Mark Adams, the law school’s former dean, who is now a professor there, is named as a defendant. He did not respond to an ABA Journal interview request. Adams stepped down as dean in 2018, according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, during Adams’s first year as dean in 2014, he told Sanders that he planned to change her teaching package so that she would teach 13 credits per semester, rather than the more traditional 12. He denied her request for additional compensation, according to the complaint. It also states that her fellow tenure applicants, both of whom were white men, were not required to teach a course overload that year.

Shaakirrah Sanders Shaakirrah Sanders. Photo from the University of Idaho College of Law.

Sanders alleged that a white law professor at Idaho Law was promised a smaller course load in the future in exchange for teaching 13 credits, and that when Sanders brought this up with Adams, he told her the other professor was “different.”

Later, the law school removed an advanced criminal procedure class from Sanders’ courses and gave it to a white professor with less experience, the complaint states. The complaint also alleges that the law school denied Sanders’ work-related travel requests, accused her of being dishonest about the travel requests, delayed her sabbatical requests and did not select her for a summer stipend that covered academic scholarship in favor of two white men who had the same rank as Sanders.

Sanders did not respond to an ABA Journal interview request. The law school in a statement wrote that it would not comment directly on the case, but it “takes seriously its commitment to diversity and equity.” Out of 37 full-time faculty members, seven are minorities and 22 are women, according to the law school’s Standard 509 Information Report.

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