BOISE — A black female University of Idaho law professor has filed a lawsuit against the university, its law school and a former dean, alleging race and gender discrimination and retaliation.
According to the complaint filed Wednesday in Boise federal court, Shaakirrah Sanders joined the UI College of Law as a tenure-track associate professor in 2011. She earned tenure in 2016. She is the only professor of color and woman of color who has earned tenure or the rank of full professor in the law school.
After Mark L. Adams became law school dean in 2014, Sanders claims he began a “pattern of disparate terms and conditions” of her employment. When she raised concerns, she says he and the law school began retaliating against her.
In one example, Sanders said she wanted to teach a specific class that she had taught before and is in her area of academic research. That course was instead offered “to a white professor with less seniority, who had not taught the class, did not have scholarship in that area, and did not want to teach it,” according to the lawsuit. Similarly, the university then reassigned another class Sanders had been teaching “to a white, male visiting professor, who had not taught the subject and who was allowed to teach it remotely from Moscow, something Professor Sanders had been told she was not allowed to do,” according to the lawsuit.
Sanders also claims in the suit that when the school announced in 2017 it was creating two new associate dean positions, she was not considered for the positions even though she met the requirements. The positions went to two white men, including one who did not meet all of the requirements, according to the lawsuit. After she confronted Adams about the hires, she says she suffered more retaliation.
In February 2018, the UI human resources department “initiated a ‘climate review’ of the College of Law. This review was allegedly the result of multiple complaints brought to leadership,” states the complaint.
The internal review “documented that leadership was aware of multiple complaints including concerns of ‘disrespectful, uncivil and abusive communication, gender bias and/or sex discrimination, poor leadership, lack of transparency in process, a perception of favoritism in the allocation of resources and poor morale amongst staff and faculty members,’” according to its summary cited in Sanders’ complaint.
In June 2018, Adams announced he was stepping down as dean and he returned to being a regular faculty member.
According to the State Controller’s Office website, as of Wednesday, Adams is the 11th highest paid state employee, making $271,024 as “regular faculty.” The new UI law school dean, Jerrold Long, makes $208,353.60.
Sanders’ complaint claims five violations of federal law, including discrimination, failure to promote, pay discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation.
The University of Idaho said it does not comment on pending litigation. Adams did not respond to a request for comment.