Faculty Member Considering Lawsuit Against MU

6 years 9 months 1 day ago July 28, 2010 Jul 28, 2010 Wednesday, July 28 2010 Wednesday, July 28, 2010 5:29:58 AM CDT in News
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COLUMBIA - According to her attorney, an MU communication professor is thinking about taking legal action against the College of Arts and Science and its dean.

Attorney George Smith said Wednesday tenured associate professor Loreen Olson thought she was the next chair of the MU Department of Communication. Smith said Olson had the unanimous support of the faculty and in fact, had an offer from the Arts and Science dean, Michael O'Brien. After a series of letters and e-mails, Olson was out of the running for the chair position.

Smith said Olson received a letter from O'Brien May 4 saying, "With Michael Kramer's departure from MU on June 30, you will assume the chair's position on July 1" and another outlining pay changes that would raise her salary by two ninths to account for summer work as chair.

A further series of e-mails between O'Brien and Olson and provided by Smith shows negotiations in process about some of the terms of Olson's contract.  In the first e-mail Olson asks why a chair stipend was not part of her offer. In his response, O'Brien says, "There is no chair stipend." In the response e-mail, Olson says, "I must admit that I remain confused about the chair stipend. I know several chairs at the university, including Michael Kramer our own chair, who have received  a small stipend (ranging from $2,000-$3,000). I feel that it is only fair that I receive the same monies paid to others."

After two more emails,  Olson claims to have received an email--not from the Dean--but his assistant, saying, "It is obvious that there are irreconcilable differences" and that the Dean would consider another faculty member for the position.

"It just seems to us...that there was a contractual provision that was agreed upon that she would be the next department chair," said Smith.  But Smith said that breach of contract is not the only issue.

"We have reason to believe that many of the male department chairs are receiving additional compensations that some of the female department chairs don't get or would not get,"  said Smith.

Smith said he and Olson are seeking permission from the Missouri Human Rights Comission to file a discrimination lawsuit. The permission comes in the form of a "Right to Sue" letter, which comes after the comission has investigated the case.

Olson herself, O'Brien, and MU spokespeople all refused interviews for this story.

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