Thursday, August 27, 2009
Tech asks to merge lawsuits
The university says it still opposes class action status for the suits filed by former employees.
At the heart of two federal lawsuits filed against Virginia Tech are relatively simple claims that women who worked as university fundraisers were harassed or were not paid as much as men who did the same work.
The university's basic defense is similarly simple: a denial that it happened.
But a motion filed Tuesday in both cases in U.S. District Court in Roanoke shows the complexity of the legal wrangling.
In the motion, Tech asks that lawsuits filed by Getra Hanes of Roanoke and Shana Kennedy of Floyd County be consolidated, arguing that the women state similar allegations.
At the same time, the university maintains its opposition to Kennedy's lawsuit's certification as a class action, saying the situation she describes, even if true, would not apply to other women at Tech. "We believe the suits are without merit," university spokesman Larry Hincker said Wednesday.
"It's a matter of making it easy on all the people involved, the plaintiffs and the defendants," he continued, explaining that because many of the same university staff are involved in the cases, it would be simpler to subject them to one set of proceedings.
Attorneys for Kennedy and Hanes could not be contacted Wednesday.
Kennedy and Hanes' positions at Tech involved maintaining contact with donors in wide geographic regions and soliciting contributions.
Kennedy was an assistant director in the Office of University Development and later in the College of Engineering's development wing from March 2006 until October 2008. In November, she filed a lawsuit alleging gender-based discrimination in pay and retaliation for her complaints.
Among Kennedy's claims was that she was offered a $48,000 annual salary for a position last held by a man whose starting salary had been $68,500.
In December, Erin Hofberg, who was a regional director of major gifts in 2006, filed to join Kennedy's claim, saying she too had seen disparities between the pay and treatment of women and men working in the development office.
Hanes, who worked in the development office as a regional director of major gifts from October 2006 until April 2008, filed a lawsuit in June claiming sexual and racial harassment by a supervisor and retaliation. Hanes did not include pay disparity in her complaint, but in July, she filed to join Kennedy's lawsuit as well.
Hanes and Kennedy cite each others' experiences in their filings as evidence of a climate of discrimination.
Hanes was told by Tech that her contract would not be renewed. Kennedy resigned amid conflicts over performance benchmarks and whether the university would make accommodations for her attention deficit disorder.
Hanes asked the court to declare that she had suffered harassment and an injunction barring such actions in the future. She also asked for at least $600,000 in lost pay and at least $300,000 in additional compensation. Kennedy asked for an injunction and for compensation for damages, but did not specify an amount.
The university -- besides its motions about consolidating the cases and opposing class action status -- asked that both lawsuits be dismissed.