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Probable cause found in ‘retaliation’ claim after RIC diversity discussion

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Commission for Human Rights found probable cause to believe a claim made by a Rhode Island College professor, who said she was retaliated against and harassed by a superior following a recommendation to hire a minority instructor.

Lisa Church, an associate professor in accounting was part of a 2017 search committee to find two accounting instructors, said she told her boss a black woman stood out as a “well-qualified” candidate, who would bring “a different perspective” to the college’s students.

“He took great offense to my suggestion,” Church said. “You could tell by his demeanor, he got really angry.”

Her boss has not responded to multiple requests for comment, and Church said she is still not sure why he became “angry” after the discussion.

Church told Target 12 within two days of the discussion, her boss reprimanded her for teaching too many classes, but the issue was dropped later that same day.

She claims there were other issues as well, one involving her boss watching her from a hallway outside her classroom on about a dozen occasions.

“He would linger outside my classroom. He would watch me from the door,” Church said. “Sometimes I’d be teaching and his face would be pressed up against the glass, looking at me.”

She took a picture of one of the incidents and filed complaints with the RIC. Department of Human Resources and her union.

Church, who has taught at RIC for about 20 years, said at one point she cleaned out her desk and was prepared to quit but was talked out of it.

“I tried to handle this internally,” Church said.

RIC spokesperson John Toraborelli would not comment on specifics of the case, but said, “the college investigated the charge and responded.”

But would not disclose how the school responded.

“The college does not condone or tolerate unlawful discrimination or unlawful retaliation [and] will vigorously investigate and address any complaints,” Toraborelli said.

In June of 2018, after the alleged incidents had continued for about a year, Church filed a complaint with the Commission for Human Rights.

In May, the commission released a report finding “there is probable cause to believe…the allegation of retaliation.”

According to the commission’s report, “there is no probable cause” for the allegation that Church was discriminated against.

That finding was not a surprise to Church who understood if there was discrimination, it was against the minority candidate she suggested.

“She actually got a job at another college for more money,” Church said. “I was happy for her.”

A complaint with the commission is the first step before a lawsuit can be filed, but Church said she has not made the decision to take the case to court yet.

“It was strange. He was hostile to me in the office, not very pleasant,” Church said. “And it still continues now.”

Toraborelli said if Church sues, the college will respond accordingly.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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