Columbia faces race bias lawsuit
November 12, 2003, 5:00 am·
Columbia University is currently facing its second case for discriminatory hiring and promotion policies in the last nine months.
Randy Raghavendra, a senior management analyst in the university's Office of Institutional Real Estate, filed suit against the school this July in New York's Supreme Court.
Raghavendra, who describes himself as a "dark-skinned Indian-American man," has accused William Scott, the office's deputy vice president, and Karen Fry, the office's assistant vice president, of not fairly considering him for a promotion because he is not white.
The case is currently in the discovery period.
Similarly, Zenobia White-Farrell, Columbia's former acting associate director of equal opportunity and affirmative action, filed a class-action suit in December of last year, alleging that she herself was discriminated against as a black.
White-Farrell is seeking relief for all blacks working in Columbia's higher administrative "grades" -- where both she and Raghavendra claim the discriminatory policies manifest themselves.
"She was designed to be the guardian of equal opportunity at Columbia, and even she had to file a race discrimination lawsuit," Raghavendra said, commenting on White-Farrell's case.
Penn is no stranger to litigation of this sort. Andrew Medcalf, a former assistant coach with the University's men's heavyweight crew team, filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission in October of 1997.
Alleging that Penn discriminated against him on the basis of his gender as he applied to be head coach of the women's crew team, Medcalf was awarded $115,000 this past summer by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of appeals.
In Raghavendra's case, he claims that not only does Columbia itself use discriminatory practices when hiring, but also contends that IRE does not hesitate to "waste thousands of Columbia dollars and hire outside recruitment agencies to bring them white-skinned candidates from outside the University."
The "young white woman hired" for one of three positions which Raghavendra applied for within his own department was not previously a Columbia employee and was, according to Raghavendra, less qualified than he, as Raghavendra has nearly 20 years of professional experience and two master's degrees.
Like Medcalf, he was also denied the opportunity even to interview for the positions for which he felt qualified.
"I had applied for three different positions of different levels." he said. "They did not fill any one of those positions" permanently.
Raghavendra added that "They refused to interview me [initially], and after I wrote letters, I was given a fake interview... [even though] they had already filled the lowest position. They were trying to look for reasons for not hiring me."
According to Katherine Moore, the senior public affairs officer at Columbia, the university "cannot comment on pending litigation."
However, she did write in an e-mail statement that "Columbia University is committed to equal opportunity and affirmative action in all matters related to employment."
The school declined further comment.
Because Raghavendra plans on continuing his employment with Columbia for "many more years to come," he was unable to remark upon the full extent to which he believes darker skinned people are discriminated against in upper administrative positions.
The hiring policies aside, he said he has felt other prejudices from his colleagues in IRE. According to his press statement, at his first meeting with William Scott, the office's deputy vice provost said, "Because you are not white, your hiring may be approved by Human Resources more quickly."
Raghavendra hopes that his case helps to mitigate these discriminatory practices at Columbia. He said, "I think I may be helping out other racial minorities who may be in a similar situation."
He also hopes to be compensated for the unfair treatment to which he claims to have been subjected.
"This has had a substantial emotional impact on me. I think the lawsuit is looking to compensate me for my emotional distress, equitable relief and punitive damages."
Raghavendra is being represented by Dan Kaiser, an attorney with Kaiser Saurborn & Mair, PC, who also handled White-Farrell's case.
Scott, Fry and Columbia's General Counsel Elizabeth Keefer all could not be reached for comment yesterday.