$5M award upheld in white professor's discrimination case

AP News
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Posted: Jun 06, 2017 12:44 PM

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A white professor at a predominantly black university in St. Louis was fired "because of the color of her skin," a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed a 2015 jury verdict that awarded nearly $5 million to Beverly Wilkins, a former professor at Harris-Stowe State University.

"Rarely have we seen such manifest and open evidence of racial discrimination," the appeals court ruling said.

It was unclear if the university would appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. "After review, we will evaluate steps the University will need to take in light of the ruling," the statement said.

Wilkins was hired to teach in Harris-Stowe's College of Education in 2001. Her lawsuit claimed she was repeatedly passed over for promotions while a black colleague hired six years after her, Latisha Smith, quickly rose through the ranks to become dean of the education department.

The lawsuit claimed that Smith, in emails, expressed a desire to make the education department "blacker." The court said Smith's emails were deleted despite a court order.

Wilkins was fired by the Board of Regents in 2010, with the university blaming state budget cuts. But the lawsuit said two black professors with less tenure kept their jobs.

"The Board unlawfully terminated Wilkins, not due to her competency or ability, but because of the color of her skin," the appeals court ruling said.