Lawsuits accuse NCCU chancellor of racism, misuse of state funds

Posted May 27, 2015

— Lawsuits filed by three former North Carolina Central University employees accuse Chancellor Debra Saunders-White of discriminating against non-blacks at the school and spending taxpayer money on personal meals, entertainment and home exercise equipment.

Marianne Murphy, a former professor at N.C. Central's business school, and Francis Smith, former director of graduate, professional and executive programs at the business school, are seeking back pay in addition to other damages in their federal lawsuits. Kimberly Luse, Saunders-White's former chief of staff, filed her suit in Durham County Superior Court and is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for health problems that she said resulted from a hostile work environment.

Smith and Luse are white, while Murphy is a native of Cuba.

In a statement issued Wednesday, university officials denied the "numerous unfounded allegations" and said they would "vigorously and aggressively" defend the school in court.

"NCCU has an impeccable record of fostering diversity and inclusion within its faculty, staff and student communities," the statement said. "Since Dr. Debra Saunders-White assumed her duties as Chancellor in 2013, she has led NCCU with passion, fairness, focus, openness and integrity, and will continue to do so in that manner."

Luse alleges that Saunders-White had a "personal animus" toward her that escalated after she reported the chancellor spending state money on personal expenses. Saunders-White berated Luse in front of colleagues, accused her of having sex with N.C. Central employees and visitors and fabricated documentation that Luse wasn't performing her job properly, according to the lawsuit.

"(Saunders-White) advised Dr. Luse that she could never perform her job effectively because, as a Caucasian female, Dr. Luse could never understand the environment at a historically black college like NCCU," the lawsuit states. "(Saunders-White) attempted to make Dr. Luse openly uncomfortable at work by making outrageous statements, including by stating on one occasion that the only two things NCCU was really about were 'chicken and (sex).'"

N.C. Central students expressed shock at the allegations.

"Just being around Dr. Saunders, that's not her. That doesn't sound like her," junior Jalen Underhill said.

"I'm waiting to see what else comes from this, but it does put her in a different light," sophomore Saudah Jones said.

Murphy and Smith reiterate some of the claims in their lawsuits, which have received clearance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They also allege that both former business school dean Keith Pigues and current Interim Dean Juanita Lester have engaged in racial discrimination against non-blacks.

Smith lost his job in a restructuring of the business school last year, although a black employee was hired to take his place, according to his lawsuit. Murphy left her tenured position at N.C. Central after her complaints to university administrators about over being paid less than black professors and being passed over for promotions were never addressed, her lawsuit states.

"This is not an effort to derail or take down Central," said attorney Laura Noble, who represents all three plaintiffs.

Noble and attorney Nick Sanservino said the lawsuits are the result of more than a year of trying to address the allegations privately.

"We have tried to resolve these disputes both amicably and in good faith, and we have reached an impasse recently," Sanservino said.

Murphy also alleges in her lawsuit that University of North Carolina system officials are aware of racial discrimination at N.C. Central but have chosen not to address it.

The UNC system referred all questions to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, which declined to comment.


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  • Drut Nosugref May 29, 2015
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    Wait. The officers in Baltimore were charged with murder. The officer in North Charleston charged with murder. Who got off scot-free?? Don't worry, I'll wait.

    Forensic evidence and eye witness testimony proved that the Michael Brown shooting was justified. Tony Robinson was high on a cocktail of drugs and attached a police officer. Eric Garner resisted arrest and the ME attributed asthma, heart disease, and obesity as contributing factors of his death.

    What is it with some people not being able to accept fact and truth but instead pull the victim card every chance they get? It's getting you nowhere.

  • Drut Nosugref May 28, 2015
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    Derric, don't be so naive. When's the last time you had headlines of a black officer shooting and killing a white man crammed down your throat (even when forensic evidence cleared the officer of any wrongdoing)? The media most certainly does fuel the fire where it is absolutely unnecessary. There are countless videos circulating the internet of black individuals beating up and robbing whites that you'll never see on any major news outlets. If the races were reversed however? There would be marches and protests for weeks.

  • Jim Murphy May 28, 2015
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    Maybe one day America will learn to distinguish between racism and bigotry. We have a long ways to go.

  • Paul Blart May 28, 2015
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    If anybody thinks for a moment when women and minorities become majorities and control everything they won't be just as bad as white males have been over the years they are delusional. It's not so much being white and male that makes them behave that way, it's that they happened to be the ones with the power at the time to pull the levers. Show me any group with power that has given it up willingly and not looked out for itself first and foremost. Its just the nature of power absolute power corrupts absolutely. Look at any nation, and race, any nationality. If you see power to be had groups will fight to make sure they get to keep it.

  • James Jones May 28, 2015
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    WOW can't believe WRAL posted this story maybe people will see that racism happens on both sides. When all the recent violence in America a Philadelphia city counsel member was on fox news Hannity blaming white people for all the violence (dated 05-26-2015 @ 10pm). With law enforcement afraid of doing their job fearing their administration will not back them due to pressures from one group better get your own protection, better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6. When is everyone going to take responsibility for their actions. Yes they are bad people of every make up but look at the big picture and make quality choices.

  • Kenneth Knoeber May 28, 2015
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    I find this story completely unsurprising. It's not like Central is a bastion of higher education. Misuse of funds? Par for the course.

  • Jacob Smith May 27, 2015
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    I could not agree more - WRAL's so-called "moderators" simply cull all reasonable arguments against their own discrimination tenancies.

    This is not a news organization fomenting a free rapport among the citizenry - it is a "clearing house" of pro lib/Obama "opinion filtering" leading up to 2016 elections.

  • Aanritsen Deur May 27, 2015
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    Agreed. Some always blame their faults on others. No intestinal fortitude or sense of moral obligations to take responsibility for one's own actions.

  • Aanritsen Deur May 27, 2015
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    I have to say, I'm glad they're using the accurate term and aren't calling it reverse-racism.
    Racism is racism, no matter who is doing it to whom, and it's wrong.

  • Dan May May 27, 2015
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    It sounds more like the issue is the good chancellor got her hand caught in the cookie jar, and decided to get rid of the whistle blowers. Of course she decided all these white folks had it in for her. Just an excuse. This is about corruption not race...