Fired CCSF administrator accuses college of wrongful termination, wage discrimination

A former City College of San Francisco administrator who was fired last year in connection to a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a student in Los Angeles is now suing City College for wrongful termination and wage discrimination.

The San Francisco Examiner reported previously that Shalamon Duke “separated” from City College in December, after serving just six months as associate vice chancellor of student services. His termination came days after a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against him by a female student at the West Los Angeles College (WLAC), where Duke had worked as dean of disabled students programs but resigned a year prior to the student’s lawsuit.

In a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Aug. 26 against City College and its chancellor, Mark Rocha, Duke alleged that his 14th Amendment rights to equal protection and due process, as well as City College’s own policies ensuring the rights of employees’ facing termination, were violated.

According to court documents, Rocha announced that Duke had been “separated” from City College and would not “return to his duties” in a Dec. 11, 2018 email to the college’s community, “without an investigation or hearing,” while an HR manager at the college informed Duke on the same day that he had been placed on paid administrative leave.

The lawsuit also alleges that Duke, who is African American, was paid less than another employee hired at the same time for a similar position, despite having less experience.

Duke was appointed by City College in July 2018 with an initial salary placement of $172,184.67 — a wage that was some $21,000 lower than his “Latina counterpart,” according to the lawsuit filed by Duke against City College. The lawsuit states that Duke had 15 years of “direct experience” while his “Latina counterpart” had only five.

On Oct. 3, City College filed a notice seeking to move the lawsuit to federal court. Maria Lampasona, an attorney representing the college and Rocha, said that she could not comment “on pending litigation.”

Steven Bruckman, City College’s general counsel, also declined to comment on the allegations, but said that the college has “a number of policies in place” guiding employee terminations, and “whether or not they apply to Mr. Duke is a question of his [claim].”

An ongoing lawsuit filed on Dec. 6, 2018 by WLAC student Sarah Murphy alleges that Duke repeatedly requested sexual favors of the then 29-year-old in exchange for “financial stability,” and that WLAC failed to protect her from years of harassment, according to court documents.

Murphy, was receiving services from WLAC’s Disabled Student Services and also worked in that office under Duke’s direct supervision, according to court documents.

Duke resigned from WLAC approximately a year before Murphy filed her lawsuit, after a Title XV officer began investigating her claims. Duke has since sued WLAC over failing to provide records on his performance and grievances, according to court documents.

Donald Lancaster, Duke’s attorney, told the Examiner that Duke “resigned to accept the position at [City College].”

“[Duke’s resignation] wasn’t contemporaneous with the investigation. It was after he was permitted to return to work [at WLAC],” said Lancaster, adding that the investigation did not produce evidence to support the sexual harassment claims.

Duke alleges that City College made no efforts to investigate the claims brought forward at WLAC, which are described as “baseless” in the lawsuit against City College. Duke also alleges that he notified his direct supervisor, vice chancellor of student affairs Trudy Walton, of the sexual harassment lawsuit when he learned about it.

On Jan. 31, a City College spokesperson confirmed to the Examiner that Walton had been placed on leave, but did not comment on the reasons, citing personnel matters.

Duke also claims that he did not receive timely notification of a Dec. 13 closed session hearing of the City College Board of Trustees during which his employment was discussed. The board voted unanimously in January to fire Duke.

The lawsuit also alleges that a pre-disciplinary hearing held in January 2019 was biased against Duke.

Duke alleges that he was officially informed on Dec. 14 that the college was moving to terminate him because he did not inform City College that a complaint was pending against him when he was hired, a claim that he disputes.

“The complaint was not pending when [Duke] assumed his position at CCSF,” the lawsuit states. Duke also claims in the lawsuit that he informed Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Dianna Gonzales of the Title XV investigation at WLAC.

In a Dec. 14 letter addressed to Duke, Gonzalez stated that the college gave him an opportunity to resign, but did not hear back from him in a timely manner and was thus moving to terminate him. She also stated in the letter that Duke informed her during a phone call that he had a letter from WLAC exonerating him of misconduct, which he failed to turn over to City College.

But Lancaster said that two of three reasons City College gave for Duke’s termination — lack of good judgment, stating that he was in possession of a letter of exoneration but failing to provide it, and dishonesty — are not valid under the state Education Code.

“Two of the bases for which they terminated him are not existent in the code — there is no such base as ‘lack of good judgment’,” said Lancaster.

“City College terminated [Duke] and ruined his career,” he added.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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