A wrongful dismissal lawsuit filed in 2005 by four African American women against Austin Peay University, and numerous officials, including new Missouri Southern State University President Bruce Speck, was dismissed by a federal judge Jan. 16.
In that lawsuit filed in the U. S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, a former Austin Peay employee claims new Missouri Southern State University President Bruce Speck made "covert racial" remarks directed at her.
The lawsuit, filed by the four African American employees who were fired during budget cuts, said that Speck, who served as vice president of academic affairs at the university, insulted two of the plaintiffs, Jacqueline Wade, director of the university's African American Cultural Center (AACC) and Nancy Dawson by saying
"he 'was tired of your arm-twisting and resistance to my decisions.'
He also made clear that he would not tolerate Dr. Wade’s and Dr. Dawson’s 'pushiness' and 'uppityness.' Dr. Wade was offended by the latter comment as 'covert racial denigration.' "
At the time, Dr. Wade was fighting the administration over cuts to her staff's budget. The lawsuit says, "Dr. Wade 'limped along' without adequate staff and funds. She felt that none of the co-curricular programs directed by Caucasian directors suffered the same budget and staff cuts."
In the lawsuit, Dr. Wade says she was racially harassed by Dr. Speck on another occasion as she battled for her job, harassment which led her to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In 2003, Dr. Hoppe (university president Sherry Hoppe) proposed a reorganization plan for APSU. The AACC and the AASP (African American Studies Program) were assigned to the Department of History and Philosophy. Dr. Wade and Dr. Dawson objected, and ultimately Dr. Speck placed the AACC as a direct report to the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. Dr. Wade states she was not given an opportunity to upgrade her administrative rank under this new reporting line and the AACC did not receive any funding support from the College of Arts and Letters. Dr. Wade received a memorandum from Dr. Speck which she considered to be very antagonistic, amounting to racial harassment. She responded the same day and from then on felt she was treated in a hostile manner by Drs. Hoppe, Speck, and Filippo. Dr. Wade attests that various studies and investigations showed the existence of racism on the APSU campus.
The lawsuit was dismissed Jan. 16, with the judge noting that even if the allegation that Dr. Speck made the "uppityness" comment was true, it was not enough to show that Austin Peay had a hostile work environment.
The judge also claimed the women had failed to prove they were discriminated against by the university or were wrongfully fired.
Dr. Speck, Dr. Hoppe and other university officials were dropped earlier as defendants in the case, leaving the university as the sole defendant.