Ex-UNT Prof's "Indecipherable" Discrimination, Retaliation Suit Gets Tossed With Prejudice

Tiffiney Barfield-Cottledge, formerly a criminal justice professor at UNT Dallas, filed a handwritten, pro se civil rights suit against the University of North Texas in 2010 for discrimination and retaliation after she didn't get picked for a few faculty positions, allegedly because she's black.

Chief Judge Sidney Fitzwater gave the indignant professor a failing grade in civil actions Tuesday. He doesn't buy her assertions that she's a victim of prejudice, but he used the word to characterize his dismissal of her suit, and laid the school's legal bill at her feet.

Barfield-Cottledge's complaint has its roots in 2009, when UNT Dallas was in the process of becoming its own institution, independent of the Denton flagship. In the needlessly painful process, all 38 Dallas faculty members were canned and forced to reapply for their jobs, including Barfield-Cottledge. Longtime UNT Dallas faculty members were furious, fearing that even if they were rehired, they'd lose seniority in the new regime.

The newly reconstituted school offered Barfield-Cottledge a one-year, non-tenure track teaching gig, which she accepted. She applied for four other faculty spots, but wasn't chosen for any of them. Rankled by the snub, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming she'd been denied positions for which she was eminently qualified on the basis of race. She also accused UNT of retaliating against her for speaking to a reporter from the Chronicle of Higher Education during the mass layoffs at UNT Dallas.

The EEOC found no evidence to support her claims.

Barfield-Cottledge took her claims to federal court in November 2010. In January, Fitzwater took a dim view of her case. For one, a newly independent UNT Dallas was in charge of its hiring decisions, not UNT. The professor, the judge reasoned, was suing the wrong school. And talking to the media isn't a protected activity under the Civil Rights Act, he instructed. Fitzwater dismissed the retaliation claim outright, and gave Barfield-Cottledge a month to explain why he shouldn't lob her discrimination case into the dustbin.

She tried, but for Fitzwater, it was too little, too late. She argued that UNT clearly discriminated against her because she was significantly more qualified for the positions than the women the school eventually hired (one was white and the other was Indian). Fitzwater took a gander at their curricula vitae and disagreed.

For argument's sake, the Fitzwater took another look at her retaliation claim, but then declined to consider it. Problem is, the criminal justice professor's "reasoning is indecipherable and does not establish that UNT retaliated against her in violation of Title VII."

Barfield-Cottledge is currently an assistant professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.