- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A St. Louis County jury has awarded nearly $5 million to a former Harris-Stowe State University instructor who argued the historically black school discriminated against her because she is white.

Jurors returned the $4.85 million verdict favoring Beverly Wilkins last Friday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1XLToSF ) reported Tuesday.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office represented Harris-Stowe and has refused to comment about the verdict. As chairman of Harris-Stowe State University’s governing board, Ronald Norwood said in a statement that the verdict was “regrettable,” leaving open the prospect of an appeal.

Wilkins’ 2012 lawsuit focused on one administrator it accused of subscribing to the “Black Power” mantra and working systematically to purge Harris-Stowe’s education college of white faculty.

According to the lawsuit, Wilkins was hired in 2001 by the university’s College of Education, where Latisha Smith, who is black, was hired to work six years later. Both were full-time faculty members.

While Smith was quickly promoted to assistant dean, then dean and later into the interim co-chair of the department in her first three years at the university, Wilkins was not promoted during her nine years at Harris-Stowe.

As the education college’s dean, Smith fired Wilkins in 2010, blaming state budget cuts, according to the lawsuit, which added that Harris-Stowe failed to follow its own policy when the school skipped over several black faculty members and dismissed Wilkins instead.

The lawsuit also alleged that the entire department was purged of white faculty except a tenure-protected white instructor. The only black faculty member fired from the education college during the same time was not terminated because of the reduction-in-force policy, but rather because he was found to be a sex offender, the lawsuit alleged.

Meyers added that after his client was dismissed, Harris-Stowe hired new people even as administrators complained of budget cuts.

“They hired a new professor to teach some of the same courses my client was teaching, and they paid the new professor $15,000 more,” Meyers said.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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