Former Butler professor files lawsuit against school alleging discrimination

A former Butler University journalism professor and adviser of the student newspaper has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the university discriminated against her.

Loni Smith McKown–who spent seven years teaching at Butler and five years as faculty adviser to the student newspaper, The Butler Collegian–argues in the federal lawsuit filed in December that the university wrongly retaliated against her after she took action to complain about alleged discrimination.

McKown started at Butler in fall 2010, and in fall 2014, began a three-year contract as a non-tenured professor. Under the contract, McKown taught three courses each semester and served as faculty adviser to The Butler Collegian.

The issue started in early September 2015 when McKown received a letter from College of Communication Dean Gary Edgerton informing her she was no longer the Collegian adviser. The school initially said a university spokesman would replace McKown, but then changed that decision.

At the time, McKown told IBJ that she thought the reason for her removal was because she accidentally forwarded the Collegian's student editor a confidential email that had been sent to faculty from Edgerton.

But the lawsuit says that, on Sept. 20, 2015, McKown complained to Butler’s Human Resources Department, saying she believed Edgerton removed her from the position because he was targeting her gender, age and religion.

McKown is 63 and practices Judaism, according to the lawsuit. She complained again to HR representatives on Oct. 14, 2015.

On Dec. 3, 2015, McKown filed an internal grievance with Butler, “alleging, among other things, that Edgerton was targeting her because of her age, gender, and religion,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint does not give examples. When contacted by IBJ, McKown referred questions to her attorney, who did not respond before IBJ deadline.

In January 2016, McKown filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, again alleging she was removed from her position of faculty adviser to the student newspaper due to gender, age and religious discrimination.

That same month, McKown applied to be director of the School of Journalism at Butler, but she was not selected. Instead, then-associate professor Margaretha Geertsema-Sligh was chosen.

On March 30, 2016, McKown amended her complaint with the EEOC arguing that the university didn’t hire her as director of the School of Journalism because officials were retaliating against her for filing discrimination complaints.

The lawsuit says that, on April 29, 2016, Edgerton recommended the university not renew McKown’s contract, which was set to expire at the end of the spring 2017 semester, and the university followed his recommendation.

Edgerton did not immediately respond to messages from IBJ. Butler declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The lawsuit argues that McKown’s complaints to the university and the EEOC are statutorily protected, meaning the university can’t retaliate against her for taking action.

Butler’s “unlawful actions were intentional, willful, and done in reckless disregard of McKown’s rights,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint says McKown has suffered from lost wages and benefits, emotional distress and embarrassment, and attorney's fees and costs as a result of the university’s actions.

McKown is requesting Butler reinstate her or pay damages to her instead, plus pay the lost wages and benefits, liquidated damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney's fees and costs, and any other legal or equitable damages.

Butler has not filed a response to the lawsuit yet.

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