Former dean of students claims discrimination

BY ARIANA WITT | MARCH 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Lawyers for Phillip Jones, the former University of Iowa vice president for Student Services, are asking a judge to add racial discrimination to his wrongful termination and defamation lawsuit against the university.

Attorneys for Jones and the UI discussed the issue, and several more, at a status conference Tuesday.

UI President Sally Mason fired Jones and former General Counsel Marcus Mills in fall 2008, accusing them of mishandling a 2007 investigation into a student’s claim she was sexually assaulted by two Hawkeye football players in a Hillcrest dorm room.

Jones sued the UI, Mason, and the state Board of Regents for wrongful termination and defamation.

Mills filed a similar lawsuit more than a year later. The criminal case involving the former football players was resolved in January.

Jones’ lawyer, David Dutton, said attorneys also argued whether the defense should have access to communication between UI officials and lawyers for the Stolar Partnership, the St. Louis-based firm that investigated the case. They have access to some documents but asked for more.

Attorneys for the UI argued the communication falls under lawyer-client privilege.

Attorneys for the UI and Sally Mason also questioned whether Jones’ attorney could depose Saundra Schuster — who was hired by the UI to evaluate its sexual-assault procedures — because they believe she would serve as an irrelevant witness.

Dutton said Schuster would be a relevant expert witness, because she was referred to as a person hired by the regents to take a look at policies and procedures of the UI — after Jones’ termination — to determine if they were consistent with “best practices” of sexual-assault policy.

During the conference Tuesday, Dutton said attorneys also discussed whether certain communication between Stolar and the regents should be submitted for review, but no decisions were made during the conference.

Dutton refuted the claim communication between the state Board of Regents and the Stolar group was confidential.

“There is a claim that that’s privileged information based upon the attorney-client privilege and they’ve provided a privilege log to the court,” Dutton said. “We don’t think it’s privileged and we’re asking the court to make that decision.”

UI law Professor Randy Bezanson said proving racial discrimination depends on two factors: evidence the accused party admitted he or she discriminated against the accuser or a pattern of discriminatory behavior based on hiring and firing practices, documents, or witness testimony.

“More commonly, you find no overt comments but patterns of hiring or tenure that suggest one group is disadvantaged,” said University of California-Los Angeles law Professor Steve Yeazell. “You get statistics and patters over time.”

Persuading a judge to add the clause depends on the individual lawsuit.

“Judges have to consider whether they can add to [the lawsuit] and have they made a general claim broad enough to include discrimination,” Benzason said. “Or whether statute of limitations had not run out and attorneys are still entitled to claims.”

And whether a jury agrees with the plaintiff depends entirely on the evidence, Yeazell said.

The trial has been set for Nov. 1.

DI reporter Hayley Bruce contributed to this story.

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