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Peterson v. St. Edwards Press Release & Petition

June 18, 2019 AUSTIN, TEXAS — Kaplan Law Firm, LLC recently filed a sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and retaliation lawsuit against St. Edward’s University.

The plaintiff, Dr. Katie Peterson, alleges a Dean at St. Edward’s sexually harassed her and that St. Edward’s failed to take appropriate action against him.  Instead, the University fired her for reporting the harassment.  

Peterson is represented by Austin Kaplan of Kaplan Law Firm.

The Petition alleges the male Dean began making sexually harassing comments toward Dr. Peterson in the spring of 2015, that he repeatedly gave Dr. Peterson lollipops and watched her with sexual intent while she ate them, and that he commented, “you can have some of my sugar anytime.” 

On another occasion, the Petition alleges he told Dr. Peterson she “has the best eyes” in front of a male witness, who then independently reported the conduct to Human Resources (HR).  The Petition alleges that following the report to Human Resources, St. Edward’s told Dr. Peterson that it assigned the same Dean to the committee to review her file and make decisions regarding her tenure. 

In May 2016, the Petition alleges that the Dean left a wet lollipop in Dr. Peterson’s mailbox that looked like he had pre-sucked on it, and that St. Edward’s in response permitted him to retire in May 2017.  In the fall of 2017, the Petition alleges a female dean, who had met with the male Dean and thought positively of him and negatively of Dr. Peterson’s reports about his behavior, did not process Dr. Peterson’s tenure paperwork and gave Dr. Peterson a surprisingly low-scoring evaluation. 

The Petition states that St. Edward’s hired the male Dean back in a temporary administrative position in November 2017 and in December 2017 told Dr. Peterson her employment would be terminated.  The Petition alleges St. Edward’s told Peterson the reason for her termination was due to financial issues, but St. Edward’s raised more than $100 million and gave other faculty members a 2% pay raise.  

On June 15, 2019, the American Association of University Professors (“AAUP”) added St. Edward’s University to its list of administrations censured for failing to observe generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure, following a detailed investigation of allegations including those involving Dr. Peterson.  According to AAUP, St. Edward’s is one of only 58 universities across the entire country on this list, and one of only two added this year.  https://www.aaup.org/news/two-institutions-added-aaup%E2%80%99s-censure-list-one-list-sanctioned-institutions# 

AAUP noted: “The investigating committee’s report concerned the dismissals of two tenured faculty members and the nonrenewal of a tenure-track faculty member . . . With regard to the tenure-track faculty member, the committee found that she had not been afforded adequate notice of nonrenewal or the opportunity to appeal the decision to a faculty body. The committee also found credible her allegation that the nonrenewal was a consequence of her having lodged complaints of sexual harassment against an administrator, noting that the allegation remained unrefuted absent an appropriate faculty review procedure. General conditions for academic freedom and governance at St. Edward’s University were found to be ‘abysmal,’ with ‘fear and demoralization’ widespread among the faculty.”

Additional coverage of the AAUP’s decision can be found in Inside Higher Ed, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/06/17/aaup-votes-censure-or-sanction-three-institutions-its-annual-meeting and in Diverse: Issues In Higher Education, https://diverseeducation.com/article/147856/. 

Kaplan noted: “St. Edward’s has a duty to keep students and faculty safe from sexual harassment and retaliation.  Here, Dr. Peterson alleges that St. Edward’s failed to take appropriate remedial action once it knew its own Dean was sexually harassing women and instead punished her for reporting those prohibited behaviors.  In our experience, these are rarely isolated incidents.  We are actively investigating whether St. Edward’s was aware of other sexually harassing behavior over the years and what actions if any it took in response to keep students and faculty safe.  The goal of this lawsuit is to ensure St. Edward’s takes the necessary steps to provide a safe environment for all students and faculty.”

The Petition includes allegations of violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code. 

Since 2015, Kaplan Law Firm has represented multiple victims of sexual harassment and retaliation across Texas, including professors, finance professionals, software programmers, tech company employees, executives, health care professionals, sales employees, oil field workers, and hospitality employees. Kaplan Law Firm has been an outspoken supporter of the #MeToo movement and righting these wrongs in workplaces and other professional settings.

Filed Petition

View the entire filed petition.