Heritage University sued for discrimination

— A discrimination lawsuit against Heritage University has been filed in King County Superior Court.

The plaintiffs —Antoineette Hull, Julie Schillreff, Maria Imelda Balderas, Jaqueline Garcia and Nieves Negrete — have hired Lahser Holzapfel Sperry and Ebberson Attorneys at Law in Seattle to file the suit.

A copy of the lawsuit filed in March, states Hull first complained to the president of the university in February 2015, regarding a pattern and practice of discrimination against Latinos by Merrilou Harrison.

Hull was a professor at the university and learned there were several more complaints against Harrison, which were submitted to the university’s Issues Resolution Review Committee.

August of the same year, Schillreff was hired as a professor and received a “glowing review” in March 2016.

Harrison did not provide the review, which violated the university’s policies, the court documents show.

The following month a member of the Issues Resolution Review Committee asked both women if Harrison contributed to “a hostile work environment and whether there had been race-based discrimination.” Both women answered in the affirmative, records show.

Within a month, both were joined by colleagues expressing concerns about the hostile work environment created by Harrison and Associate Dean Dr. Joannie Monroy at a faculty meeting, records show.

The women, then, experienced retaliation and complained to Veronica Naranjo in Human Resources, records show.

Hull also sought access to additional pay and professional development opportunities to fulfill her contract with the university, but was denied, records show.

She alleges being excluded from leadership at the university’s College of Education and believes she’s been assigned classes with higher workloads without additional pay, records show.

“Ms. Hull has also been denied an evaluation by Ms. Harrison for the past three years,” documents show.

Schillreff’s part in the suit alleges the placement coordinator violated policies in disclosing a student’s disability to potential placements. Schillreff was the student’s advocate and referred the student to the vice president of student services, documents show.

Harrison and Monroy reassigned training Schillreff was supposed to receive shortly after the incident with the student, documents show.

A settlement between the university and Schillreff was agreed upon in relation to the reassignment, records show.

Despite complaints against Harrison, she remained the dean of the College of Education, documents show.

Individuals responsible included defendants Ellen Wallach, Jim Pigott, Doug Lawrence, Michael Guidon, Hellmut Golde, Mimi Gates and Don Burdick.

During her second-year evaluation with Monroy, Schillreff complained the leadership at the College of Education, including Harrison, created a hostile and harassing work environment, documents show.

The following month, she met with the provost and vice president of academic affairs during which time, Schillreff was informed she would be losing her position at the university, documents show.

Schillreff alleges the decision was made in retaliation for her complaints, records show.

Reprimands included in Schillreff’s file appeared and disappeared because of a “disturbance” in Mornoy’s files, documents show.

Those files were kept in Monroy’s office at Harrison’s insistence, rather than in human resources, which is a violation of the university’s policies, records show.

A grievance was filed against the provost and vice president, Dr. Laurie Fathe, because she violated the university’s policies outlined in the faculty handbook. Schillreff, however, was unable to retain her position after an ad hoc committee reviewed the grievance, documents show.

Balderas, a 26-year employee, served as an administrative assistant at the College of Education, records show.

Having served several deans at the college, she had no issues until Harrison was appointed to the Dean position, the lawsuit said.

Harrison was the first to enter into Balderas’ personnel file a reprimand, and Balderas began noticing younger women were being hired for administrative positions, documents show.

In May 2016, Balderas was notified by Fathe that her position was being eliminated, records show.

About a month later, another individual was hired for a similar position, and a position became available at the College of Arts and Sciences, for which Balderas was encouraged by another professor to apply, records show.

The following day, she was informed the position was filled and Balderas applied for an administrative position in the library, records show.

She was not offered the job because “there was a candidate whose skills and experience provided a better match for the needs of the position,” documents show.

Balderas told attorneys she learned Harrison informed staff Balderas turned down an offer, although she was terminated, records show.

Garcia, also an administrative assistant, worked for Monroy, records show.

She alleges she wasn’t provided adequate training, and Harrison made her feel unwelcome, records show.

Garcia said Harrison insulted her, and Monroy accused her of not knowing how to do her job after only a month working at the university, records show.

Garcia alleges hearing Harrison make racist and disparaging comments to other employees, including a statement “… there are two kinds of Mexicans: loud ones and quiet ones,” records show.

She classified Garcia as the former, documents show.

Harrison fired Garcia without warning within three months of her initial employment, records show.

Negrete replaced Garcia and experienced similar treatment and was told there were issues with former Latino employees. She was instructed not to not interact with other staff, records show.

After receiving a positive review, Negrete had an interaction with Harrison that confused her and ultimately ended in her being fired, records show.

Harrison told her via text a green folder was found on the hallway floor and placed in her office, and Harrison told her to take three days off work leading up to a scheduled Christmas holiday, records show.

Upon her return, Harrison and Monroy had a meeting with Negrete, criticizing her work and accusing her of attempting to remove the green folder from the campus, records show.

Negrete was given the option of resigning with two weeks pay or being placed on an improvement plan that would result in a loss of pay, records show.

The following day, Negrete was injured and was ordered medical bed rest, records show. She was provided two more days to make her decision regarding the disciplinary action and chose the performance improvement plan, records show.

However, Harrison already decided to fire her, records show.

The defendants are seeking compensatory and monetary relief for damages, costs and attorney fees.


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laruevan 9 months, 3 weeks ago

FYI, this is not the first time Heritage has been sued for discrimination against staff. The same people involved in this suit were involved in the suit brought and won by Patricia Valdez-Zontek. Where is the Heritage board of directors? What a waste of time and resources.


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