Texas Southern publicly censured by ABA

Following allegations of gender discrimination, the American Bar Association’s accreditation committee took a visit to Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. The committee did not like what it saw.   

The law school was publicly censured by the ABA, which found that the law school was out of compliance with standards involving equal opportunity, admissions, education programs and academic advising.

Faith J. Jackson, Thurgood Marshall’s associate dean of internal affairs, filed a lawsuit against the school in 2016 alleging gender discrimination. After a site visit, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar launched a fact-finding operation and determined that the law school was not in compliance with Standard 205(b), which addresses equal opportunity for students, faculty and staff.

The law school appealed the decision, and at a hearing on the appeal, the interim dean and president of Texas Southern University acknowledged that a perception of gender bias existed at the law school. He said that “gender discrimination will not be tolerated” at his university, according to the Council’s decision.

James Douglas, the interim dean of Thurgood Marshall Law, denied allegations of gender discrimination or sexual harassment, the Texas Lawyer reported.

"There were people who said, 'I think that there is sexual discrimination in the law school.' But no one has been able to find that to be a fact. The allegation and what the ABA is critical of is that that is what some of the females believe, and because some of the females believe it, we have an obligation to deal with it," Douglas told Texas Lawyer. "They did not find that there was any truthfulness to the allegation, just the fact that the allegations existed and we didn't respond in a manner they though the law school should have responded."

For four years, Jackson complained to former dean Dannye R. Holley that she was not being paid as much as her male counterpart, according to Jackson’s lawsuit. It wasn’t until January 2016, two weeks before the ABA sent the fact-finding team to the law school, that Holley acknowledged that Jackson was being underpaid.

Holley also prevented Jackson from reprimanding employees in breach of university policies and participating in meetings with direct staffer, Jackson claims in the lawsuit. In addition, Jackson alleges that the law school staff retaliated against her after she filed an Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission complaint against the law school. Jackson was denied a full professorship (despite a majority faculty vote) and different standards were applied to her evaluation process, according to the lawsuit.

“Despite the complexity of bringing a discrimination case against a public institution, our client brought the suit to hopefully change the culture of gender bias in selecting its faculties and administrators,” Scott Khoa Bui, Jackson’s lawyer, told the ABA Journal in an email.

After the hearing, the Council found that the law school remained noncompliant with Standard 205(b). The Council directed the law school to develop a reliable plan to demonstrate how it will create and maintain an environment free from gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The plan must also address how it will train faculty staff and administration regarding gender discrimination and sexual harassment. 

“Our job over the next year or so is to prove to them there are not gender bias issues and basically to show that even though there are no real facts, that we are doing everything we can to eliminate the perception,” Douglas told Texas Lawyer.

The Council issued a second decision, finding that Thurgood Marshall is also out of compliance with standards involving admissions, education programs and academic advising. The law school must provide the ABA with admissions data and methodology, including the law school’s admissions practices and policies, for the fall 2017 entering class.

The law school must post both council decisions on its website and pay a $15,000 fine to the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

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