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Tuesday, February 22, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 100

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New rulings uphold discrimination claims

Allegations against Duffy are substantiated, Dallas EEOC says

By Audrey Warren
Senior Staff Writer

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has once again ruled in favor of two female UH employees who allege General Counsel Dennis Duffy subjected them to a hostile work environment and repeatedly discriminated against them based on age, race and gender.

The EEOC's Dallas office issued its letter of determination Thursday stating that evidence supported claims from Susan Septimus and Sue Yerby, both former employees in Duffy's office, that the general counsel ridiculed and humiliated them.

The rulings also find evidence that both Septimus and Yerby later ran into difficulty in transferring to other jobs or obtaining promotions because they filed complaints against Duffy.

The Dallas determinations came after UH President Arthur K. Smith's dismissal of May 1999 findings from the EEOC's Houston office, which apparently led to the case's being re-assigned to Dallas.

In a June 1999 memorandum, Smith alleged the Houston office's reports were biased because Joan Ehrlich, director of the office, was friends with former UH affirmative action director Electra Yourke, who initiated an independent investigation of the discrimination charges in 1998.

Yourke was one of the three women including Septimus who filed complaints against General Council Dennis Duffy in spring 1998 alleging that the he had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1964.

The case was re-assigned after current affirmative action director Ileana Treviño phoned the EEOC's Washington headquarters last summer and discussed Ehrlich and Yourke's relationship with officials there. It is unclear whether Treviño's call prompted the change, however.

"That was just a smear tactic to change the subject," Septimus' attorney, Andrew Golub, said Monday.

In addition to the charges of workplace abuse, Septimus said she was denied the position of interim executive director of procurement and campus services because of a lawsuit she filed against the University.

UH contended that Septimus was never offered or promised the position and that she was not appointed to the position for reasons involving money and experience.

But the Dallas EEOC found evidence supporting Septimus' claims that she "was and is qualified for the position" and that UH had "selected individuals for interim appointments in the past, regardless of salary considerations."

In a sworn affidavit, Ron Miller, who formerly held the position Septimus sought, stated that after announcing his retirement in early 1999 he recommended to Associate Vice President of Administration John Martin that Septimus should take his place.

Miller said Martin informed him Septimus would take the position and that the new appointment could be announced to other staff members.

The following day, however, Miller said Martin spoke with him before a staff meeting and said that a change had been made -- former director of Auxiliary Services Ann Lamar, not Septimus, would be taking over the position. Golub said the position was "yanked" away from Septimus in retaliation for her lawsuit.

The Dallas EEOC's findings are the latest in a complicated series of events centering around allegations against Duffy, which began in the Spring of 1998. Yourke originally hired the law firm of Dillard, McElvaney & Kovach to conduct an independent investigation of the matter. But Smith ignored the firm's April 1998 report, choosing instead to form his own three-member administrative ad-hoc panel to look into the situation.

The panel found none of the claims against Duffy to be substantiated and ordered the general counsel to undergo management training.

After the Houston EEOC ruled in Septimus' favor in May 1999, Smith released a memorandum to top UH officials discounting the rulings and saying Septimus' claims were unfounded. Smith rebuked Septimus and Golub for what he called "(working) zealously to have their side of the case aired publicly."

The nest step in the case will be for the EEOC to attempt to resolve the situation through conciliation efforts. If UH does not agree to settle out of court -- and so far, Smith has indicated it will not -- a federal lawsuit may be filed.
 

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