A lawsuit currently pending against the University is alleging widespread gender discrimination within the ranks of Yale Security.
Former Yale Security employee Melita Willoughby claims that her 2010 termination resulted from gender-based hostility, which she alleges ran through multiple ranks of the security force. In the complaint — which was filed in federal court in Connecticut on May 5, 2014 — Willoughy claims she was subjected to rude and inappropriate remarks by male transit dispatchers, and that she ultimately became the victim of sexual harassment by another male security officer.
When she voiced these complaints, according to the complaint, Willoughby was told “that she should not be making complaints about harassment in an uncertain economy.”
According to the complaint, the University cited a minor motor vehicle accident involving the plaintiff as cause for her termination.
In a response filed on May 19, the University denied Willoughby’s allegations. In the response, Yale admitted that Willoughby did complain about prior interactions she had with the male security officer, but that she never suggested she was a victim of sexual harassment.
“[The court] has not yet taken Ms. Willoughby’s deposition, and we have until May 1 to finish discovery,” said John Williams, Willoughby’s lawyer and lead attorney at the Law Office of John R. Williams and Associates.
Though Williams said he could not speak on whether Willoughby claims gender discrimination is a larger problem within Yale Security, the lawsuit bears resemblance to three other more recent terminations from Yale Security.
November 2014 saw three Yale Security employees — Joy McAllister, Darrell Turner and Malu Mulumba — terminated for reasons they deemed unfair. The terminations came just weeks after Yale Security employees voted to leave the Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, a large union with a national span, to form the Yale University Security Officers Association. The new union is only open to Yale Security employees.
Like Willoughby, the three former employees claimed they had spotless records and were given little to no warning about their sudden terminations. In addition, the three argued that reasons given by the University for their terminations, such as the inability of one of them to properly learn to ride a bike, were baseless and lacked substantive backing, as does Willoughby regarding the motor vehicle accident.
“Several other security officers, employed by [Yale] and similarly situated to the plaintiff, were involved in comparable or worse accidents and were not terminated,” the complaint states. “The excuse offered by the defendant for terminating the plaintiff was false and a pretext for unlawful retaliation.”
University spokesman Tom Conroy declined to discuss personnel matters, as did Janet Lindner, deputy vice president for human resources and administration.
When questions first arose about whether the terminations of McAllister, Turner and Mulumba were tied to the formation of the YUSOA, union representative Dwayne Goldman said he and his colleagues at Hanley Law Offices — which first supported efforts to form the new union and now represents YUSOA — were looking into whether a complaint could be filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Since then, the firm has decided not to file NLRB complaints.
“After careful consideration, we determined that it would be impossible to prove that these three terminations were a result of the employee’s union activities,” Goldman said. “The response from Yale was what we expected. They did not offer any valid reasons for the terminations. They simply terminated these employees because they could.”
Goldman added that he had no evidence suggesting gender played a role in the three terminations. McAllister, one of the three employees, echoed the sentiment, stating in a text message that she did not believe there was gender discrimination within Yale Security.
Joseph Garrison, partner at the Connecticut-based firm Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Richardson, Fitzgerald and Pirrotti and specialist in employment law, said blatant gender discrimination is more difficult to prove than subsequent retaliation for voicing her concerns. Successful cases, Garrison added, must also demonstrate that a reasonable employee would not have made the complaint if aware that doing so would result in termination.
“Sexual harassment is definitely protected under law,” Garrison said. “If somebody is fired after that complaint is made, then there’s a presumption that, well, there’s probably a connection here.”