June 5, 2012 in Region

WSU to pay $650K to settle discrimination lawsuit

NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS Associated Press
 

SPOKANE — Washington State University has agreed to pay $650,000 to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by two former employees of Chinese descent.

The settlement revealed today will pay $325,000 each to Dr. Ying Li and her husband, Lizhong Yang. It also calls on the Pullman school to enact policies to prevent future discrimination.

“We believe in fostering a community at WSU where all individuals feel safe, valued and respected,” WSU President Elson S. Floyd said today.

The plaintiffs in the federal case contended that while working in WSU’s Laboratory for Bioanalysis and Biotechnology, they were subjected to overt discrimination by the lab supervisor based on their race and national origin.

They said they were precluded from speaking Chinese at work and during breaks. After complaining, they said, they were segregated into seating arrangements with other non-white employees and excluded from numerous lab meetings.

The incidents began in July 2008.

“Dr. Li and Mr. Yang came to America from China expecting to live the American dream, not expecting to see bias and prejudice at a progressive institution like WSU,” said their attorney, Scott Blankenship of Seattle.

The lab supervisor accused of discrimination is “in the process of separating from the university,” WSU said in a news release.

Li worked at WSU for nine years and Yang worked there six years. Both resigned in November 2009 when the discriminatory conduct would not stop, Blankenship said.

“When looking back over the past three years, I can hardly believe we went through it,” Li said in a press release. “We thank everyone who helped support us with their honest statements, testimonies or investigations.”

The couple have moved with their two children to southern California, Blankenship said.

The financial terms of the settlement were resolved in March, but an investigation and negotiations with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission only concluded Thursday, Blankenship said.

Floyd said WSU promptly and thoroughly investigated the allegations, and a university-wide anti-discrimination training program has been instituted, which is mandatory for all employees.

“Subsequent to our own investigation, we have cooperated with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and have fully resolved this matter with both the former employees and with the EEOC,” he said.

The EEOC concluded there was reasonable cause to believe that Li, Yang, and other Asian employees of the lab were subjected to an illegal hostile work environment consisting of race and national origin harassment.

As part of the resolution, WSU signed an agreement with EEOC allowing that agency to monitor the lab for two years to ensure an environment free of discrimination.

The plaintiffs are satisfied with how the case was handled, Blankenship said.

“WSU ultimately investigated the complaints objectively,” he said. “After Dr. Li and Mr. Yang sought to enforce their legal rights, WSU reached out to compensate them fairly and is working with the federal government to prevent this from happening in the future.”

As a result of the case, WSU employees will be required to watch an anti-discrimination video online and pass a test on the material.

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