Associate professor sues GW for denying promotion

Media Credit: Donna Armstrong | Contributing Photo Editor

An associate professor in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development is alleging that the University wrongfully denied her a promotion and violated a settlement agreement the two parties reached last year.

Updated: Nov. 1, 2018 at 12:36 p.m.

An associate professor is alleging that the University wrongfully denied her a promotion and violated a settlement agreement the two parties reached last year.

In a 33-page complaint filed Tuesday, Mikyong Minsun Kim, an associate professor of higher education administration, alleges that GW unfairly treated her application to be promoted to a “full” professor in spring 2017. Kim alleges that officials had promised in a settlement agreement earlier that year that she would be promoted if she received favorable course evaluations that semester.

But Kim claims that despite positive feedback in her courses, the University still has not promoted her – breaching the settlement agreement, which had been reached after she claimed the University harassed and discriminated against her for years.

The promotion would have been accompanied by a raise totaling tens of thousands of dollars. In the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the salary for an associate professor averages roughly $99,000, while a full-time professor’s salary clocks in at about $143,000, according to a March presentation by Provost Forrest Maltzman on average faculty salaries during the 2016-17 academic year.

Kim seeks $1.5 million in damages and demands that the University promote her to a full professor, increase her base salary to $110,000 retroactively to May 2017 and rescind the settlement agreement.

“The University’s intentional and planned breaches of the settlement agreement caused Dr. Kim to suffer damages in the form of lost increased salary, as well as the loss of professional prestige and damage to her reputation, emotional distress and damage to her quality of life,” the complaint states.

Kim declined to comment, saying that “the University already anticipated that this case would be filed… let’s restore GWU’s academic integrity.” Paul Thaler, the lawyer representing her, did not return a request for comment.

University spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton declined to comment on the complaint, citing a policy not to comment on pending litigation. She said the University has not yet received the lawsuit.

“The University will take appropriate action in response to any court filings,” Hamilton said. “It is worth noting that complaints filed in court only represent one side’s view of a case.”

The lawsuit comes after a multiyear feud that began when the University denied Kim’s promotion application in the summer of 2013, after which Kim filed a formal charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2014.

She then formally complained to the University in September 2015 for “repeated and ongoing harassment and discrimination issues” concerning her work conditions, denying her application for a promotion two summers prior and violating faculty codes regarding discrimination, harassment and academic freedom.

The University allegedly removed Kim’s “above average” or “good” course evaluations from her folder before her application was reviewed to “disadvantage” Kim during the evaluation process, according to the complaint. Kim claims that she reported the “document-tampering problem” to the vice provost for faculty affairs and his assistant right away, but the vice provost said he hadn’t moved them.

The suit states that the vice provost acknowledged that Kim’s course evaluations were “good and stable,” with the exception of a group and organization theory course she taught in 2012 and 2014 when no other professor was available, even though the course was outside her area of expertise.

She claims because the University required her to repeatedly teach a course outside of her expertise, she received negative teaching evaluations in 2012, which “adversely affected her overall teaching record.”

“The University gave the course that Dr. Kim should have – and had previously – taught to an adjunct or part-time instructor, even though that decision was educationally inappropriate for students and the program,” the complaint reads.

Kim claims that the University removed her from teaching and advising rights and responsibilities, excluded her from faculty meetings and removed five of her doctoral dissertation advisees without consultation.

Kim and the University entered into a settlement agreement in February 2017 after a lengthy mediation process intended to resolve Kim’s grievances, according to the complaint.

The settlement agreement allowed Kim to reapply for a promotion in spring 2017 and said she would be promoted after satisfying “certain conditions,” like acquiring positive teaching evaluations for that semester and resubmitting a new promotion application, according to the suit.

Kim’s spring 2017 evaluations were “positive,” “strong” and surpassed the departmental average in every category, but the University refused to promote her to full professor, the complaint states. Kim states the settlement agreement should be rescinded as a result.

Kim alleges that the University “intentionally breached” its settlement agreement by manipulating the composition of promotion committees, as three of the four members of her promotion committee were ineligible to serve in the group.

The University Faculty Code states that only tenured and tenure-track professors are eligible to evaluate full professor promotions, but Kim says her committee consisted of two associate professors and one appointed member by Michael Feuer, the dean of GSEHD.

Kim states the University has not yet provided her with “any reasons” for the denial of her promotion in June 2017.

“The University and the school deans created a culture of distrust,” the complaint states. “The deans abused their power in faculty affairs and controlled the procedures and the Personnel Committees to yield their intended outcome: a denial of Dr. Kim’s promotion.”

Editor’s note: This post was updated to add comment from Kim and a University spokeswoman.

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