Archive for Tuesday, January 10, 2017

KU professor files 2nd lawsuit saying she was subjected to anti-German discrimination

January 10, 2017

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A University of Kansas assistant professor has filed a second lawsuit, this time in federal court, claiming she was made to endure anonymous and negative student evaluations and discrimination from the university.

On Friday, the professor, Catherine Joritz, said she filed a lawsuit against KU in federal court in Topeka. The lawsuit claims Joritz was wrongfully terminated and forced to suffer both a hostile work environment and anti-German discrimination, in violation of her civil rights.

Joritz said she is American, but has spent a significant amount of time in Germany.

Joritz filed her first lawsuit against KU last summer, in Douglas County District Court, in part claiming the university violated the Kansas Judicial Review Act by unreasonably terminating her employment.

Through her lawsuits Joritz is seeking reinstatement of both her position and the Hall Center for the Humanities Creative Fellowship that she was previously awarded. She is also seeking any relief the court might find appropriate.

"I would really like to see reinstatement, primarily," she told the Journal-World. "But I would also like to see the university follow its own policies."

Joritz said she is representing herself in both lawsuits.

KU spokesman Joe Monaco declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Joritz said for 30 years she worked in Germany as both an independent animator and a teacher. She returned to the United States to be near her 90-year-old mother, who has dementia.

According to her lawsuits, Joritz accepted a position at KU as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies in 2012. In the spring of 2014 she taught a basic video course for the first time and several students were "dissatisfied with the course."

However, the students did not speak to Joritz, the lawsuit states, but complained instead to then-department chair Tamara Falicov, who told them to write their thoughts in anonymous student evaluations at the end of the semester.

"The student evaluations included handwritten angry, aggressive, anti-German comments, including criticizing (Joritz's) pronunciation of words and the fact that (Joritz) talked about Germany, in and outside of class," the lawsuit says.

The students accused Joritz of being a Nazi sympathizer and said she "drove us nuts frequently mispronouncing well-known words," and claimed Joritz "talked about Germany all the time," the lawsuit says.

"I was honestly shocked when I saw those comments," she said. "They're very hurtful to read, comments that have to do with a culture you're bringing ... you're bringing your experience from this culture into a classroom and one would hope that would be perceived as enriching."

The student evaluations then became a part of Joritz's permanent record, "included in every important evaluation" and "negatively affecting her chances for salary increases and continued employment," the lawsuit says.

"So students can write anything about you and it's anonymous, so it's completely unaccountable and that's really the last time in their lives that they'll be able to say anything about a person and be completely unaccountable," Joritz said.

Joritz then approached KU's Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access requesting the anonymous comments be removed from her record, the lawsuit says. However, she was told the 180-day time limit had passed to file a complaint. Additional requests were also denied.

Joritz became "a closet German" in her workplace, "fearing end-of-semester student evaluations to the point of panic and near nausea," the lawsuit says.

In a tenure-track committee review, held in the 2014-2015 school year, one committee member wrote in an evaluation Joritz's German background might be responsible for the negative reviews, the lawsuit says. The committee member claimed Joritz may have had "difficulty in adjusting her communicative and teaching skills to her new environment and culture."

In May 2016 Joritz was informed that she would not be reappointed to her teaching position at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. The letter, sent from KU's Office of the Provost, stated that Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little "determined your research record demonstrated insufficient progress toward tenure, warranting non-reappointment."

According to her lawsuit, Joritz had received "good" or "very good" ratings on evaluations until 2015.

Joritz was awarded KU's Hall Center for the Humanities Creative Fellowship for 2016 and her animated short film, "Zapf Dingbats - A Tribute to Hermann Zapf," was presented at the 62nd International Short Film Festival in Germany.

Trial dates have not yet been set for either of Joritz's lawsuits. Her last day as an employee of KU will be May 16.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Joritz taught professionally in Germany for 30 years. The story has been corrected to show Joritz worked as both an independent animator and a teacher.

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