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UMUC professor gets $430K settlement in discrimination case

Maryland’s Board of Public Works approved a $430,000 settlement Wednesday with a man who said his supervisors at the University of Maryland University College discriminated against him because of his heritage.

The school, which is the branch of the University System of Maryland catering to adult learners, settled with Motee Persaud during mediation on Sept. 13. The settlement was unanimously approved Wednesday by the board, which comprises Gov. Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

“Dr. Persaud was satisfied with the resolution of the case,” said David Scher, Persaud’s Washington, D.C.-based attorney.

“Obviously, a settlement is less than he would have asked for at trial, but he was pleased with the result,” said Scher, a principal with The Employment Law Group P.C.

Chip Cassano, a spokesman for UMUC, said the school could not comment because of the confidentiality of the settlement.

Persaud, 73, who was born in Guyana in South America and is of East Indian descent, said his supervisor, John Volpe, and other superiors discriminated against him based on his race by giving him a one-year extension on his contract. He said other, less qualified white and American colleagues received two-year extensions.

When Persaud filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint with UMUC in January 2008, he said Volpe found out about it and “began a campaign of retaliatory harassment” against him, according to the complaint filed in January 2010.

Persaud said Volpe’s decision to terminate him in December 2008 was retaliatory and based on race and national origin discrimination, violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Persaud began working as an associate professor and academic director of the Business Law and Public Policy program for the university in 1994. It was around that time that the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling dismissing a case Persaud had brought against Morgan State University for improperly denying him tenure and terminating his employment.

In 2004, he created the Global Business and Public Policy program for UMUC. When Volpe became Persaud’s immediate supervisor in December 2006, the two initially got along. But Persaud was disturbed by comments Volpe made about “foreigners and African Americans,” according to the complaint.

He said Volpe told him several times to go back to Guyana. According to Persaud, Volpe also made disparaging remarks about black students, calling them “lazy” and “incompetent,” and said UMUC’s open admission policy allowed “ghetto Blacks” into the college, the complaint said.

After a heated exchange between the two in October 2007, in which Volpe made more derogatory comments about black people and Persaud revealed that his girlfriend of 20 years was black, a rift developed.

During a meeting to discuss Persaud’s contract renewal in December 2007, the complaint said Persaud was told he would receive only a one-year extension, when others got two or more years. Persaud asked why he had only received a one-year contract, and Volpe said he had made the decision based on “lunchroom conversations.”

Persaud named colleagues in the complaint who received two-year extensions, including Robert Tipple and Thomas G. Thompson, who are both white and, according to the Persaud, less qualified for their positions as academic directors.

When Persaud confronted Volpe about the longer contracts his colleagues had received, Volpe told him to “lie low” and that he would take care of him, according to the complaint.

On Jan. 24, 2008, Persaud asserted in a nine-page complaint to a university official that he had been discriminated against because of his race and nationality. In that complaint he asked for a two-year contract.

UMUC never did a formal investigation of the complaint, while Volpe’s behavior toward Persaud grew more and more hostile, according to Persaud, until in December 2008, Persaud was told his contract would not be renewed.

Persaud was put on administrative leave with pay for the remaining six months of his contract.

“What we see most often in this context is retaliation,” said Scher, Persaud’s lawyer.

“We have many instances where employees have faced harassment but are afraid of saying anything,” he added. “What we often see is an employee finally does speak up and they get fired for it.”