A woman claims the board of trustees at Southern Illinois University is treating her unjustly after she spoke out about racial discrimination she allegedly faced while working at the school.
Janice LaRiviere filed a lawsuit Dec. 6 in St. Clair County Circuit Court against the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University and Kenneth Neher.
In her complaint, LaRiviere claims she was working as an assistant director for building and maintenance when the position for director opened up. Part of her job duties as assistant director included filling in for the director in his absence, so when the director position became available, LaRiviere thought she would be a perfect fit for the job, according to the complaint.
LaRiviere, a black woman, applied for the director position. In addition to her experience, LaRiviere thought she should be hired for the job because of the university’s Affirmative Action Policy, which ensures that positions be made available to minorities, the complaint says.
However, university officials did not hire LaRiviere for the position because she did not hold an engineering degree, an alleged requirement for the job. LaRiviere contends that the previous director was not required to have an engineering degree, and she should not have been required to hold one, either.
LaRiviere complained about the university’s reluctance to hire her for the position to the assistant chancellor for institutional compliance. After about six weeks of waiting for a response from the chancellor, LaRiviere was informed on May 19, 2011, that because she did not have an engineering degree, which is a requirement for the job, she was not unfairly eliminated from the job search, according to the complaint.
LaRiviere appealed the finding to the university chancellor, but the result remained the same, the suit states.
On Aug. 23, 2011, LaRiviere filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying she had been discriminated against because of her race. They sent her a letter of her right to sue, and LaRiviere filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, her current complaint says.
Meanwhile in October of 2011, LaRiviere was placed on a search committee to appoint a manager of campus architects at the university. LaRiviere claims she grew increasingly disgruntled when she saw that the list of finalists did not include Patrick Long, a minority qualified internal architect.
She voiced her concerns to the vice chancellor on Dec. 2, 2011. Within days, LaRiviere’s job description was substantially altered, and she was no longer allowed to manage a crew of 38 employees, according to the complaint. She also was singled out regarding her budget, performance and disciplinary matters and was given an oral reprimand for allegedly failing to obey a direct order to counsel one of her supervisors when she had counseled the employee, the suit states.
“The retaliatory and pre-textual conduct described above has been for the purpose of setting up the conditions for a defensible termination by defendants of plaintiff’s employment and/or to create a hostile working environment to serve as inducement for plaintiff to leave her job voluntarily or a constructive termination,” the complaint says.
LaRiviere claims university officials were retaliating against her because of her complaints of racial discrimination.
Because of the university’s actions, LaRiviere experienced pain and suffering, endured a reduction in her pay and benefits and suffered humiliation and a loss of reputation, according to the complaint. She also lost her earning capacity, the suit states.
In her complaint, LaRiviere seeks compensatory damages, a judgment of more than $150,000, front and back pay, attorney’s fees and other relief the court deems just.
Robert B. Ramsey and D. Jeffrey Ezra of Ezra and Associates in Collinsville will be representing her.
St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 13-L-609.