Law Professors

University of Idaho law prof alleges more mistreatment in an amended Title VII complaint

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

A year after suing the University of Idaho for civil rights violations, Shaakirrah Sanders, the law school’s first Black full professor, filed an amended complaint earlier this week with some new allegations.

For instance, she stated that the dean had recorded a culture and climate campus forum she moderated without anyone’s consent, and after she complained about it, the school gave her a poor yearly evaluation.

Sanders did not respond to an ABA Journal interview request. The university’s director of communications in an email wrote that they do not comment on pending litigation.

When the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho lawsuit was first filed in June 2019, it alleged Sanders 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. When Sanders complained to former dean Mark Adams, she was retaliated against, according to her complaint.

According to the amended complaint, during an October 2019 campus forum featuring former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a student provocatively asked “whether we should consider culling or genocide as a solution to climate change,” stunning students, faculty and staff alike. In a subsequent email, Jerrold Long, dean of the law school, wrote that in professional life, we are always confronted with offensive speech and distasteful people, and trying to “bully those bad ideas” causes more forceful speech. He also wrote that if anyone felt physically threatened, they should let him know.

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

According to Sanders, several students were upset about Long’s email, and expressed fears for their safety and worried that the student who asked about genocide may try to come to school and carry it out himself.

In response, the school held open forums moderated by Sanders o address concerns from students, faculty and staff. At the second of these forums, Sanders said in her complaint that she and others in attendance noticed they were being recorded. According to the complaint, Long had written an email to staff saying he would have the meeting recorded, but forgot to tell Sanders.

In any event, Sanders claims that no one asked her permission to record the event, or provided participants with notice. In an email sent to faculty and the university’s Office of Civil Rights & Investigations, Sanders wrote that students had approached her about the recording, and she was concerned it could have a chilling effect on speech. Her complaint also states that she asked Long to identify which Idaho law supported his direction to record the second forum, but got no response.

A few days later, Sanders alleged that Long emailed about her annual review from February 2020, and wrote that her communications about the recording was “having a negative effect on our climate and culture, and falls short of the standards of professionalism we expect of our faculty.”

Sanders, who in May received the faculty award from the university’s diversity and human rights committee, filed a rebuttal to the review, and did not hear back from Long, according to the complaint.

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