A federal judge yesterday rejected Howard University's request that he set aside a $60,000 jury verdict won by a white teacher who sued the university for racial discrimination after she was fired from her job.
In a post-trial motion in late April, the university contended that as a predominantly black institution, it "may take race into consideration" and give preference to blacks in hiring and promoting professors.
But U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr. said that under court rules, he could not accept the university's argument because Howard had not raised anything "even remotely resembling" it earlier in the case.
Even if the argument were "properly before the court," Robinson said, the motion could not be granted because the evidence at trial "was more than sufficient to provide a reasonable basis" for the jury's verdict in favor of Gabrielle Turgeon, a teacher of French who lost her job at Howard in 1979.
A spokesman for Howard said yesterday that the university would not comment on the ruling or on whether it will appeal.
At the trial in March, Howard officials strongly denied any discrimination and said Turgeon, who now teaches in a Fairfax County high school, was dropped because of poor performance.
However, Turgeon, who has a doctorate in French language and literature, testified that she had been replaced by black faculty members with lesser qualifications. According to university employment records presented as evidence at the trial, Howard has hired 17 blacks and only three whites to fill positions in its Romance language department since 1976, even though blacks hold less than 10 percent of the advanced degrees in the field.
Howard contended that while evidence similar to Turgeon's "might be sufficient . . . where a black complainant was claiming racial discrimination . . . involving a white employer, it is legally insufficient where a white teacher claims discrimination" by a black university.
Because of "past discrimination against blacks," the university said in its motion, there will be more whites than blacks with advanced degrees "for years to come."