An Austin Peay State University (APSU) adjunct professor is suing the university over alleged gender discrimination, pay inequality and retaliation.

The 11-page complaint, filed in the United States District Court of the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, claims Jessica Morris, who holds a Master’s degree in corporate communication, was passed over for a job that was awarded to a male colleague.

The federal complaint had been filed in June of 2019, but court records show that after the defendant moved to have the complaint dismissed, the plaintiff moved to amend the complaint with issues addressed in the motion to dismiss.

According to court records, the case is set for a jury trial on Jan. 26, 2021, beginning at 9 a.m. in a courtroom of the United States Courthouse on Broadway in Nashville.

The suit says that Morris began her employment with APSU in August of 2007 as an adjunct professor in the department of Communication.

Her story begins in March of 2017, following a job posting that was made public for the position of Assistant/Associate Professor of Communication.

If hired, the position would have made Morris an employee of the university with the benefits that would have accompanied her employment.

On April 11, 2017, the suit says Morris was formally interviewed for the position by the search committee and had a question and answer session with other faculty members.

During a meeting, Morris said the members of the search committee notified her that she was selected for the position for which she applied.

After the meeting, Dr. Frank Parcells, search committee chair, introduced Morris to the others within the office as the new Assistant Professor of Communication, according to the suit.

Within a week, Morris said she was notified that the Provost, Dr. Rex Gandy, had refused to sign off on the paperwork securing the position, citing her lack of a PhD as the reason.

In May of 2017, Morris was advised that the university was officially rescinding its job offer and was deeming the search failed.

She was advised that the position would be reposted with a PhD requirement and that she would not be eligible for the position.

Gender discrimination

In the lawsuit, Morris claims that a male employee, with the same credentials as herself, was treated more favorably than she, based upon gender and was presented the position.

This male employee was allowed to hold the position of Assistant Professor in the Communication Department with only a Master’s Degree, the suit says.

Morris also alleges that the male employee, who was performing the same work, was paid at a higher rate of pay.

The suit says that Morris was prevented from holding the position of Assistant Professor of Communication with increased pay, prestige and that the position would have allowed Morris to be on the track for tenure.

With the position being awarded to a male with the same credentials, the suit claims gender discrimination.

Claims of retaliation

After filing a complaint with the university and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Morris said in the suit that she was subjected to acts of retaliation.

“Austin Peay disclosed to the public the Plaintiff’s identity and nature of her complaint against the university…this was done in retaliation for Plaintiff’s protected activity,” the suit says, “This caused the Plaintiff much emotional harm as she was subjected to ridicule and hostile attitudes by those in the public as well as those at the university.”

Morris alleges those actions are discrimination, based upon retaliation prohibited by the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. 

APSU reaction

Officials with Austin Peay State University said they do not comment on cases involving ongoing litigation.

Damages

Morris is seeking damages from APSU to include both past and future lost wages and benefits.

The suit requests compensatory damages for emotional distress, embarrassment and stress and loss of enjoyment of life.

Additionally, out of pocket expenses for medical and pharmacological expenses are requested.

A specific amount was not named in the suit.

In addition to compensatory damages, Morris is requesting to be reinstated to the position for which she applied and was selected and that all attorney fees/costs incurred in the action be paid.

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