Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Former UNCW employee’s allegations ‘threadbare’ and ‘speculative,’ federal judge dismisses retaliation case

(Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

WILMINGTON — After a settlement brought her previous civil rights lawsuit to a close two years ago, former UNCW diversity admissions director LaTasha Jones’ accusations against the university, this time for retaliation, have been rejected. 

In federal court, Judge Richard E. Meyers II granted UNCW’s request for dismissal on Dec. 19, almost a year after Jones filed a second lawsuit. 

READ MORE: UNCW diversity admission director pursuing second lawsuit after resigning from “lost cause” position

In her complaint, Jones accused UNCW of violating the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It also bans discrimination for charging an institution for violating the act. 

Jones claimed UNCW acted in retaliation toward her following her first lawsuit in 2019. In that case, Jones claimed her direct superiors — Director of Admissions Marcio Moreno and Assistant Director Lauren Franklin — in UNCW’s admissions department were discriminating against her as a Black woman by passing her over for multiple promotions. Though there was no payout; the two parties settled in October 2020, resulting in a promotion for Jones. 

The agreement stipulated Jones was to be promoted to a new position — senior assistant director of admissions for diversity initiatives — fit with an $11,000-salary increase. Provost James Winebrake was to be her supervisor until a new admissions director was hired.

Jones told Port City Daily last month the problems started in May 2021, when the university hired the new director — her former supervisor, Franklin. In her suit, Jones accused Franklin of “distorting the quality of her work,” requiring “unwarranted” improvements, which resulted in threatening disciplinary action when requests weren’t met. In her case, she sought $25,000 in punitive damages. 

According to the judge’s order, however, Jones’ claims “do not amount to ‘materially adverse’ actions and UNCW certainly did not take those actions because of [her] previous lawsuit.”

Judge Meyers asserts Jones failed to provide a causal relationship between her actions and the adverse reaction of her supervisor. 

Jones told PCD she had panic attacks inside her office and was diagnosed with PTSD. The lawsuit claimed Franklin’s supervision over Jones was “deleterious to her health.” 

To PCD, Jones said Franklin also did not value her work in diversity initiatives and was not in favor of separate positions for that work. Jones also refused to meet with Franklin for her performance review. She told PCD Franklin wanted to do so before she had received her previous review from the provost. When she refused to meet three times, she was threatened to be written up for insubordination. 

“Jones’s allegations, while often threadbare and speculative, merely reveal an employee who does not like her supervisor, a supervisor that took the ordinary step of criticizing an employee’s work product and implementing goals for improvement, and an employee who was threatened with disciplinary action-not in retaliation for a prior EEOC suit-but for refusing to meet with her supervisor,” according to Meyers’ judgment. 

The judge’s order indicates Jones did not provide any factual evidence demonstrating how Franklin distorted her work, why her performance goals were unwarranted and how the disciplinary action, which never took place due to UNCW’s acquiescence to Jones protests, would have resulted in unfair treatment. 

“Even if these allegations were taken as true, it is not plausible that they are materially

adverse actions,” Meyers wrote in his order. 

Jones could not be reached for comment by press. She has 30 days post-ruling to file an appeal. 


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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