Post Classifieds

High court refuses to hear ex-prof's discrimination suit

By Kyle Hayden
On April 11, 2014

A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear a former Miami University professor's case claiming racial discrimination involving promotion and tenure, according to court documents filed March 24.

Marvin Thrash was hired as an associate professor in Miami's Department of Paper Science and Engineering in 2004 as a part of an initiative to increase minority representation in the engineering department, according to his deposition given in October 2012.

In the 2010-11 academic year, Thrash applied for tenure track, encouraged by Marek Dollár, the dean of the School of Engineering. At the time, Thrash was "ready and able" to apply for tenure, according to court documents. Miami's promotion and tenure committee said Thrash performed well enough to be granted tenure.

However, depositions in case records refer to a member of the committee who said, "[Thrash] did not create a robust research program." Chair of the paper science department Shashi Lalvani cited this rationale when she ignored the committee's recommendation and denied Thrash tenure.

Thrash said he was well prepared, and with the support of Dollár, believed he would be granted tenure. Instead, his contract was allowed to expire in May, 2012.

In 2013, Thrash brought a civil rights discrimination lawsuit against both the University and Lalvani. Thrash's legal counsel claimed, "[Lalvani] denied promotion and tenure at Miami University due to racial animus."

The court found no evidence of purely racially discriminatory behavior by the promotion and tenure committee or Lalvani, and the case was thrown out. The court found the university, Lalvani and the promotion and tenure committee supplied sufficient and fair evidence to deny Thrash tenure.

Last month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Thrash's petition to have his case reinstated, or heard en banc, before a panel of judges.

"A rehearing is necessary," Thrash's lawyer Marc Mezibov wrote, "because the majority panel's determination that there was no genuine issue of fact with respect to pretext created a new, unreasonably difficult summary judgment standard that conflicts with precedent from this Court and the Supreme Court."

The sole dissenting judge was Karen Nelson Moore. Citing a precedent set by the Supreme Court and a federal ruling known as F.R.C.P. (Federal Rules Civil Procedure) number 56 that states, "The court should review the material as whole, it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe."

Miami University communications director Claire Wagner declined to comment, citing a university policy against making comments on legal matters, even where the university prevails.

Mezibov and Thrash could not be reached for comment.

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