Former professor loses discrimination suit

By By Jaime Winston

By Jaime Winston

Former U Research Assistant Diane Xie cannot sue the U on claims that she was discriminated against for being a Chinese woman because she was never an actual employee of the U, the Tenth Circuit Court ruled July 5.

Xie worked as a research associate professor for the department of civil and environmental engineering from the fall of 2000 to 2002, when in 2003 her position was not renewed.

After her dismissal, Xie filled suit against the U stating her boss, Department Chairman Lawrence Reaveley, had discriminated against Xie and other minorities within the department, according to a complaint filed in District Court in January 2005.

The document also says Xie was locked out of her office without notice in July of 2003, and later when she was let into the office found many of her personal items missing.

Xie stated that “other white male research professors had not been treated in this like manner when they left the department,” and that they were given other privileges she wasn’t.

The U repudiated Xie’s claims of discrimination, stating that her position wasn’t renewed only because Xie was unable to obtain any research grants, U representative and Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Landward stated in court documents.

Landward admitted that U employees relocated Xie’s belongings, but only after she was given several months to remove them.

Xie’s claims of Title VII discrimination were not considered in a 2006 District Court case against the U, which Xie lost, or her subsequent appeal in the Tenth Circuit because both courts found Xie was not an official employee of the U.

In February 2006, the District Court granted the U’s motion to dismiss after applying a multi-factor test to see if Xie was a U employee. One of the factors was payment. While she did not receive salary, nor were social security or taxes paid on her behalf, the U did agree to give Xie a portion of grant money she received. However, she didn’t receive any grants.

According to a court document, Xie’s representative said, “The University attempts to convince this court that the plaintiff was not an employee simply because she was not paid. The University lists as employees even unpaid faculty.”

Xie showed that unpaid employees are listed on the employee directory.

However, the main focus of the test was to see if the U controlled Xie’s work. The court concluded, “The University had minimal ability?to control the means and manner of Dr. Xie’s work.”

Xie argued that all professors work independently.

“It is true that the U affords its faculty substantial independence. However, the record establishes that the relationship between the University and Dr. Xie was far more attenuated than that of an educational institution and its faculty,” said U attorney Clifford Petersen.

The Tenth Circuit Court issued a similar ruling earlier this month siding with the U’s position that Xie was not an employee.

Xie had sought a statement from Reaveley about her employee status, according to court documents, but the request was never fulfilled.

Petersen argued that Xie never indicated in court papers that she needed information from Reaveley to prove her employment status, and said that Xie would have been in as good a position to depose as Reaveley was.

Both Xie and Reaveley declined to comment for this article.