The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has asked a federal judge to reinstate and give back pay to a Howard University lawyer who was fired after he filed a sex discrimination case against the school.
The EEOC made the unusual request even though it has not yet completed its own investigation of claims by Michael A. Harris that he was discriminated against in his job and then fired on Jan. 31 because he had filed a complaint with the EEOC.
The agency charged in its suit that it has been unable to complete its investigation because eight Howard employes familiar with the case have refused to discuss it out of fear of reprisals by the school.
Harris, until his firing a $29,000-a-year staff adviser in the office of Howard's general counsel, Dorsey Lane, has claimed that Lane favored female employes in pay and promotions over him even though he is better qualified.
The EEOC said in its suit that Harris had complained to university president James Cheek about the alleged sex discrimination for two years before filing the EEOC complaint last Nov. 1. Harris charged in his EEOC filing that one woman was promoted to assistant general counsel despite inferior qualifications and that he was denied a chance to compete for the job. In another instance, he said that a woman in Lane's office is being paid $2,000 more per year despite the fact that she does not have a law degree.
"Howard University discharged Harris because he opposed employment practices made unlawful by anti-discrimination laws , and because he filed a charge of discrimination with the commission against Howard University," the EEOC suit alleged.
Harris charged in a second EEOC complaint after he was fired that he had been given "very little meaningful work" after filing the first complaint. Harris said he was told by Cheek "that I was discharged due to unacceptable performance and because of activities and efforts that are detrimental to the well-being of the university.
"I was never notified of any actions or activities involving me that were detrimental to the university," Harris said.
Haywood L. Perry, the EEOC's deputy district director in Baltimore, said in an affidavit that court intervention was necessary in the case because Howard's "unlawful conduct" not only will continue to harm Harris but also will "have the effect of precluding or discouraging Howard's employees and students from participating in the investigation."
In addition to requesting Harris' reinstatement, the EEOC asked that Howard be enjoined from "engaging in practices" which could in any way inhibit its employes from making charges or testifying in discrimination cases.
Lane could not be reached for comment. Howard spokesman Alan Hermesch declined comment.
Harris' case is one of several in which Howard has been accused of discrimination in various forms, against whites and Africans, women and men.
Harris' allegations of sex discrimination triggered a campus uproar when student newspaper editor Janice McKnight gave prominent coverage to the story and later printed an editorial calling for Lane's resignation.
McKnight, the editor of The Hilltop student newspaper, claimed Cheek twice asked her not to print any more stories about the case. She was expelled from school the day after Harris' firing, and her expulsion sparked a round of student protests. McKnight was later reinstated both as a student and as the newspaper's editor, but The Hilltop has since suspended publication because of a lack of operating funds.