Did Lehigh University Ignore Sexual Harassment Claims to Help Maintain a Racially Diverse Faculty?

Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is facing a lawsuit after a faculty member claims the university retained James Braxton Peterson, a prominent Black professor, despite evidence that he had sexually harassed women colleagues. The lawsuit claims that the university wanted to maintain its image as a diverse institution and did not pay adequate attention to sexual harassment claims against the professor.

The lawsuit was filed by Monica Miller, an associate professor of Africana studies at Lehigh University. After the evidence against Peterson became too much to ignore, Lehigh suspended him and placed Miller in his position as head of the Africana studies program, a role Miller claims she was too inexperienced to hold. According to her, she was only placed in that figure-head position because she was Black. Miller claims that when the university put her into this position when she was not ready, it subjected her to “a hostile environment of intimidation and harassment,” her lawsuit reads.

Miller also alleges that she was sexually harassed by Peterson while she was interviewing for her job. According to her, Peterson made inappropriate comments to her and called her late at night about the position. In 2013, Peterson took Miller to a restaurant alone where he asked her to sit on his lap and kiss him, and rubbed her leg under the table, according to the lawsuit. Miller alleges that after she was hired, he continued to harass her, but as a pre-tenure scholar, she felt too vulnerable to make a formal complaint against him.

 

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