Dr. Christine Johnson McPhail, President of North Carolina HBCU, Alleges Discrimination and Retaliation Against University and Board of Trustees

RALEIGH, NC, Dec. 19, 2023 (GlobeNewswire) — Sanford Heisler Sharp today filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Dr. Christine Johnson McPhail, the former president of Saint Augustine’s University.

Dr. McPhail alleges that Saint Augustine’s University and its Board of Trustees (collectively, the “University”) subjected her and other Black women to discrimination. She also alleges that the University retaliated against her by, among other actions, firing her days after she notified the University that she had retained counsel to represent her in discrimination and retaliation claims.

Dr. McPhail is an accomplished leader in higher education, having served in professorships and senior roles at colleges and universities throughout the United States. In February 2021, after what the University described as “an extensive national search,” Dr. McPhail was selected to serve as its thirteenth president. Saint Augustine’s, founded in 1867, is an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) located in Raleigh, North Carolina.

According to the EEOC Charge, members of the male-dominated Board of Trustees exhibited a pattern of discrimination against Dr. McPhail and other Black women. The Charge alleges that male trustees berated Dr. McPhail and her Black female peers and devalued their opinions. When Dr. McPhail challenged such conduct, the Charge alleges that male trustees dismissed her concerns, claiming she needed to be “less sensitive,” and accusing her of going “in the gender direction.

The Charge also details a heated Board meeting on October 5, 2023. According to the Charge, one male trustee yelled at Dr. McPhail, “Woman, did you hear me speak?! I demand you answer my question!” The Charge alleges that the same trustee later shouted at Dr. McPhail, “Who do you think you are?! You’re just an employee. Get out of my face, employee!” According to the Charge, another trustee told Dr. McPhail on the following day, “You just need to hurry up and get over that . . . You’ve got to separate yourself from that woman stuff.”

On October 9, 2023, Dr. McPhail submitted an internal complaint, alleging “hostile environment.” According to the Charge, in the ensuing weeks, several trustees threatened Dr. McPhail with termination, and the Board’s Executive Committee recommended termination of Dr. McPhail’s employment. Moreover, the Charge alleges that a male trustee sent Dr. McPhail a “cease and desist” letter, claiming among other things that she had made “defamatory” statements in her October 9 internal complaint.

On November 6, 2023, Dr. McPhail’s counsel informed the University that it had been retained to represent Dr. McPhail in her claims of discrimination and retaliation. The next day, the Charge explains, two trustees called Dr. McPhail, chastised her for hiring counsel, and threatened her job. Despite two more correspondences from Dr. McPhail’s counsel on November 8 and November 9, 2023, the Board voted to terminate Dr. McPhail’s employment on November 13, 2023.

“Dr. McPhail poured her heart and soul into the University,” said David Tracey of Sanford Heisler Sharp, who represents Dr. McPhail. “It is extremely disturbing that the University terminated Dr. McPhail’s employment so shortly after she raised claims of discrimination and retaliation.”

The Charge alleges that Dr. McPhail has suffered substantial economic damages, emotional distress, and reputational harm. She further alleges that the University’s actions are part of a pattern or practice of discrimination against Black female leaders. “Dr. McPhail brings these claims not only for herself,” said Mr. Tracey, “but she also brings these claims to help prevent others from suffering similar harms.”

Dr. Christine McPhail is represented by David Tracey, Partner and Co-Chair of the Public Interest Litigation Practice Group at Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, a national civil rights firm.

About Sanford Heisler Sharp

Sanford Heisler Sharp is a public interest and civil rights law firm with offices in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Atlanta, Baltimore, Nashville, and San Diego. The firm focuses on employment discrimination, Title IX, wage and hour, whistleblower and qui tam, criminal/sexual violence, financial services, and Asian American litigation and finance matters. Our lawyers have recovered over $1 billion for our clients through many verdicts and settlements.

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