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UNT Prof's Discrimination Suit Might Get Tossed ... For Going After Wrong School

In a 2010 lawsuit filed in federal court, Dr. Tiffiney Barfield-Cottledge claimed the University of North Texas lobbed her application for a faculty position into the dustbin because she's black. And because they were retaliating against her for allegedly griping to the media.

In recompense, she sought a $250,000 settlement and a year's worth of health insurance to cover the psychological harm she says UNT has caused. On Monday, a federal judge tossed the retaliation portion of her claim, and in a month, he could dismiss the whole thing too.

It might be because she sued the wrong school.

In 2006, Barfield-Cottledge was hired as a criminal justice lecturer, assigned to teach primarily at UNT Dallas on a year-to-year contract. By 2009, the branch school had met the requirements to become its own institution, independent of the Denton flagship. It now had sole discretion to make its own faculty appointments. And in the needlessly painful process, all 38 faculty members in Dallas were canned and forced to reapply for their jobs at a reconstituted UNT Dallas -- including Barfield-Cottledge in March 2010. The move rankled UNT Dallas professors who'd invested years into the institution, fearing that even if they were rehired, they might get demoted in the new regime.

Barfield-Cottledge was one of the lucky ones. She was offered another one-year, non-tenure track teaching gig. She accepted it and began lecturing at UNT Dallas for the 2010-2011 academic year. At around the same time, she applied for four different faculty positions. And she didn't get a single one.

The following July, in a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Barfield-Cottledge claimed race factored into the school's decision not to hire her for any of the faculty positions. She alleged they were also retaliating against her for speaking to a reporter with the Chronicle of Higher Education, who was researching a story on the en masse firing of the UNT Dallas faculty.

The EEOC dismissed the complaint in August, and in November, she filed suit against UNT in federal court under a provision of the Civil Rights Act that bars employment discrimination. She had already been accepted for tenure track by UNT, her filings indicate, yet she couldn't land a single faculty spot at UNT Dallas. Was it race? Was it the reporter?

Who knows, was the reply of Judge Sidney Fitzwater in his order dismissing the case, primarily because she hadn't provided any actual proof. And there was, of course, one other big problem with her choice of defendants: She sued the wrong one. It wasn't UNT who passed her over, the judge noted. If any institution had discriminated against her, it was UNT Dallas, which now had sole control over its faculty appointments.

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He also ruled that talking to the media "isn't a protected activity under Title VII," and dismissed her retaliation claim. According to Fitzwater's order, Barfield-Cottledge has one month to file a brief explaining why the court shouldn't dismiss her case entirely.

Unfair Park reached out to Barfield-Cottledge -- who now teaches at the University of Houston-Clear Lake -- for comment Tuesday afternoon, but she hasn't responded as of this posting. Ditto for UNT general counsel. The State Attorney General's Office declined to comment on an ongoing case.Barfield Complaint Barfield Dismissed

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