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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Faas

Former professor files lawsuit against Canisius College on the basis of gender-discrimination

A former Canisius College professor has filed a lawsuit in the State Supreme Court in Erie County alleging gender-based discrimination after the college did not promote her to the rank of full professor.

The suit was filed in late October and details multiple incidents that occurred in the fall of 2018. The suit was filed against Canisius College, President John Hurley, Professor Peter Schaber, Ph. D and Professor Girish Shambu, Ph. D.

Neva Emily Joy Sanders-Dewey, who holds a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, was hired as an assistant professor at Canisius College in 1999 and promoted to the position of associate professor in 2004. In December 2017 she served as a tenured associate professor and the psychology department chair until Oct. 1 2018, when she was terminated.

In 2017, Sanders-Dewey applied for a promotion to full professor. At this point, according to the official complaint, she had achieved all of the criteria for full professors as outlined by the Canisius Employee Handbook.

Also according to the complaint, both Girish and Schiber sat on the Faculty Status Committee (FSC) at the time, and both provided reasons why Sanders should not be promoted to full professor.

When asked for additional information from the FSC, Sanders provided an 18-page supplementary document. The committee still did not support her application and provided different reasons for their decision, some of which are not specifically included in the faculty handbook requirements.

Sanders appealed the decision, the complaint said “the FSC’s use of ‘policies and procedures’ provided in the faculty handbook regarding promotion decisions that were not appropriately utilized or procedurally adhered to during the review” of her application to the Evaluation and Review Committee.

The complaint said that the FSC did not include all the required information for her hearing in Sanders’s file to the Evaluation and Review Committee before conducting the hearing. Therefore, the committee could not complete a proper determination due to the handbook requirements.

According to the complaint, Sanders was not provided the details of her promotion denial; however, a male professor of similar situation received the details of his promotion denial. Sanders also became aware that another male colleague, who was less qualified than her, received a promotion.

Points 59 and 60 of the complaint explain that when Dr. Sanders obtained an attorney, President Hurley — though he has the ability to review the denial — claimed that he would not, due to her attorney.

On Sept. 24, 2018, Sanders cancelled her class and rescheduled her office hours. Then, on Sep. 26, she was informed that the college had found a replacement for her and requested her class materials. She had not been informed that she was being fired nor did she resign.

She then on Sept. 27 canceled class once more in order to take care of her mental health. According to point 67 of the complaint, during a text conversation with a colleague, Sanders said: “‘I was advised on Wednesday of last week not to return to campus,’ to which her friend responded ‘So, you’re done?’ Dr. Sanders responded, ‘I guess so.’ Meaning she was at the end of her proverbial rope.”

The following day, Sanders’s colleagues and friends were told she would not be returning and she was informed her actions were seen as a resignation.

Sanders is alleging discrimination based on the fact she was denied the promotion to full professor while a lesser qualified male colleague was promoted. The complaint also describes how, “Dr. Sanders and other women instructors at Canisius were paid substantially less on average than their male coworkers as part of a culture of discrimination against women.”

Additionally, the complaint details that President Hurley, Girish and Shaber allegedly aided and abetted discrimination by “participating in conduct that gave rise to retaliation and discrimination cases.”

When asked for comment, President Hurley said, “The College strongly disputes the narrative and claims made by Dr. Sanders-Dewey and her attorney. We expect the judicial process to demonstrate that her allegations have no merit, and that everyone at the College, including Drs. Shambu and Schaber, did everything right in regards to Dr. Sanders-Dewey’s employment here.”

All facts stated in this article are based on the lawsuit authored by Frank Housh of Housh law offices, the attorney for Sanders Ph. D, which was filed in the State Supreme Court in Erie County.

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