October 22, 2020

Trial over discrimination lawsuit filed against NCC by a former employee scheduled for September

A former employee of Northampton Community College will soon appear in court to settle a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the college.

The lawsuit filed by Tyrone Wright also names Belinda Austin, current associate dean of college services at NCC’s Monroe campus and Brett Last, who is no longer employed by NCC but was the executive director of human resources at the time the suit was filed.

Wright worked at NCC for over ten years as an adjunct professor and academic advisor. He had a 71 – 19 record as coach of the men’s basketball team. An Allentown native who attended Kutztown University, Wright now lives in Hanover Township.

Tyrone Wright and former NCC president Dr. Arthur Scott

In his lawsuit, Wright alleges that, in 2015, because he is African American he was denied an interview for the position of assistant director of student life and leadership development. Wright said he was highly qualified for the position, which was given to a younger, white woman, who he believes was less qualified and less experienced than he was.

All five of the candidates interviewed for the position were white, according to a court document from a preliminary hearing, which is available online. The woman hired for the position had a master’s degree in higher education administration. Wright has a master’s degree in sports management. He said both degrees met the criteria for the position.

NCC’s legal representation contended that Wright was not considered for the position because he was unqualified, according to the court document. However, Wright claims that an applicant with a degree in fine arts was interviewed for a similar position at Monroe later that year.

Prior to being denied the interview, Wright was asked, he said, to temporarily take on the tasks of student life and leadership development at the Monroe campus when the person who previously held that position resigned.

Midway through that semester, he said he applied for the assistant director position when it became available at the Bethlehem campus.  After awaiting a response for several weeks, Wright said he reached out to a friend, a director at NCC, who informed him that the interviewing process ended and a candidate had been selected.

Wright felt slighted, believing he had been exceeding his responsibilities at NCC, by taking on new roles in addition to teaching and working with various school clubs. Dissatisfied with the reasons he was given for not having been offered an interview for the position, Wright filed a charge of discrimination.

“And that’s when things went south,” he said.

The charge, Wright said, was investigated by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) in Harrisburg. The commission held a fact-finding conference that was attended by Wright, Last, Austin and Frank Pologruto, the former head of student life and leadership development at NCC. The conference resulted with Wright receiving a right to sue letter, he said.

After the conference, Wright alleges that Austin, his supervisor, began to treat him differently, prompting him to file a complaint of retaliation with the PHRC. At that point, Wright also filed a complaint with NCC, but according to the court document, Last “determined that the complaint lacked merit.”

Following these events, Wright received his first unsatisfactory performance evaluation and was placed on a performance improvement plan. The court document indicates that there was some discrepancy between Wright and his supervisors as to what goals he was supposed to meet. In February 2018, Wright was fired for failing to meet the objectives of the plan, he said.

Wright said he has since been unable to find employment in the field of education.

All emails sent by The Commuter to involved parties at NCC were forwarded to Brad Drexler, executive director of marketing and communications.

“Because this complaint is still in litigation, we are not able to comment on it. What I can tell you is that NCC does not tolerate discriminatory behaviors in any form. We remain committed to preserving an environment that promotes and protects the diversity of our people, ideas and viewpoints as the college’s most important asset,” said Drexler.

The court document states, “The defendants maintain that Wright cannot establish that he was qualified for the position or that he was denied the position under circumstances that give rise to an inference of discrimination.”

Wright claims to have a sworn affidavit from a Kutztown University student who witnessed racist remarks made by a former NCC faculty member, who is involved with the case, during a summer program in 2017.

A jury trial is scheduled to take place at 9 a.m. on September 14.

“My lawyer thinks that we have a great case,” said Wright.

(Contact Chris Devlin, editor of The Commuter and author of this article: thecommuter@nullnorthampton.edu)

Chris Devlin

Chris Devlin, editor of The Commuter, is a freshman at NCC.

View all posts by Chris Devlin →
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