UAA employee files lawsuit against university

A federal judge ruled June 30 that there is sufficient evidence to try a racial and religious discrimination suit filed by a UAA employee against his supervisor and the university.

John Mun, an Enrollment Services employee, alleges he was denied promotions and was retaliated against for filing a grievance seeking more than $12,000 in overtime pay he claims is owed to him.

“We don’t want to leave everyone with the impression that we believe discrimination is rampant throughout the university,” said Dennis Acker, Mun’s lawyer.

Linda Lazzell, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, said she couldn’t discuss the details of the case while it is still under litigation, but referred The Northern Light to the Board of Regents systemwide guidelines.

According to those guidelines, “Discrimination refers to being adversely treated or affected, either intentionally or unintentionally, in a manner that unlawfully differentiates or makes distinctions … on some basis other than an individual’s qualifications, abilities and performance, as appropriate.”

At time of printing, the attorney representing the university was temporarily unavailable for comment, said Lori Keim, editorial associate with University Advancement.

Mun started working at Enrollment Services in 1995 as a student employee while pursuing a master’s degree. He immigrated with his family to the United States from Korea in 1976. Mun became a citizen in 1982. Religiously, he identifies himself as Korean Buddhist.

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In his affidavit, Mun claims that he was retaliated against for filing a grievance in September 2002 seeking overtime pay. Mun alleges that over the next year he was excluded from meetings and e-mail notices and that the chief enrollment officer, Rick Weems, threatened his career at the university.

Weems declined to be interviewed, but in his affidavit to the court he denies having made threatening statements to Mun.

“What he [Mun] is alleging is that it’s quite prevalent among that department that certain religious overtones are implied by Mr. Weems,” Acker said. “He is essentially Christian. He invites people to his prayer groups through e-mails at work. The people that attend his prayer groups are generally white and generally get promoted more so than people who don’t, and they get different pay.”

Mun and his attorney sought to bring charges against two other employees in supervisory positions at Enrollment Services. However, these charges were thrown out by the U.S. District Court judge who reviewed the evidence.

Mun’s grievance for overtime pay was denied in a hearing with the university in September 2003. In his affidavit, Mun claims that hearing was unfair, stating the hearing officer was not neutral and “fell asleep during the hearing on more than one occasion.”

Mun was previously the Curriculum Advising and Program Planning coordinator and created a systemwide program allowing students to receive unofficial degree progress evaluations online.

In 2004, of the 125 UAA employees in technical or paraprofessional positions similar to Mun’s, 12 were minorities and of those, two were Asian, according to Campus Diversity and Compliance statistics.

Since the June 30 ruling, Mun has been moved to a different position within Enrollment Services – a move he says is a demotion.

Lazzell cites a budget cut of more than $200,000 as the cause for that move.

“Positions that were empty were eliminated and also positions that didn’t directly interact with students,” Lazzell said.

Despite cuts in budget, the department was able to avoid laying off employees while still restructuring to better serve students, Lazzell said.

“John was offered a position as one of the Enrollment Services/Financial Aid advisors. His salary was maintained at the same level,” Lazzell said. “John’s quite knowledgeable about different kinds of degrees so I’m sure he’ll be an asset there.”

Mun said he’s concerned the online progress evaluations will eventually be eliminated.

“In the two years that it’s been online, almost 12,000 evaluations have been run by staff, students and faculty advisors verses degree evaluation processing approximately 1800 per year,” Mun said. “If you look at the manpower versus the students I helped, versus what they’re claiming on restructuring, it doesn’t quite match up.”

Mun and Acker have requested a trial date early next year.