McHugh says he was bias victim

In 1996, law professor Bill McHugh argued that FSU discriminated against him because of his age.

By Leonora LaPeter


  1. Florida State University law professor Bill McHugh has been teaching labor law -- and sexual harassment and discrimination law in particular -- for 25 years.

  2. So when a student in his contracts class formally charged him with sexual harassment and racism in 1996, McHugh turned to what he knows best.

  3. He filed charges against FSU, saying he himself had been discriminated against because of his age and because he had complained in 1992 that a former associate dean had sexually harassed a law student.

  4. McHugh's complaint, filed with the state Commission on Human Relations, came as he and the university were negotiating a response to a complaint by law student Candace Kollas, who charged he made sexist and racist comments in his contracts class.

  5. McHugh's strategy may well have worked.

  6. Kollas, corroborated by others, said McHugh repeatedly berated her and said he didn't believe she was black because she didn't have " `black' hair" and because she was so "articulate." In response, the 64-year-old professor got only a warning letter from FSU President Sandy D'Alemberte. Less than a year later, McHugh dropped his complaint with the human relations commission.

  7. FSU released details of McHugh's complaint this week as part of his law school personnel file. Because state law allows the university to keep confidential any complaint filed against a professor before 1995, university attorneys reviewed the file and withheld some documents.

  8. McHugh has been the target
    of repeated complaints

  9. McHugh, who has taught at the law school since 1973, has been the target of repeated complaints by students and employees -- mostly women -- about crude and sometimes lewd comments in class and on the job. In at least one case -- a pregnant woman whom he forced to stop working -- FSU paid a financial settlement of $1,000.

  10. But most of the complaints are not in the public record. And McHugh evidently was not disciplined as a result of any of them until the D'Alemberte reprimand last year.

  11. McHugh, who was suspended with pay last month for allegedly exposing his genitals to a law student while showing her his hernia scar, could not be reached for comment this week.

  12. Attorney Stephen Slepin, who was retained in June to represent McHugh in the most recent complaint, said he didn't know details of McHugh's discrimination charge. He accused the Democrat of "grinding an ax" against his client by reporting it.

  13. In documents filed with the Commission on Human Relations, McHugh wrote that he first complained to the law school's dean in late 1991 or early 1992 that then-Associate Dean Mack Player was sexually harassing a female student. The documents don't specify any details of the alleged incident.

  14. McHugh wrote that after he complained, he was "the victim of isolation, selective assignments, withholding of pay increases and other adverse employment actions due to retaliation and/or his age."

  15. Don Weidner, who was law school dean then and is acting dean now, denied that McHugh ever told him Player had sexually harassed a student. Linda Schmidt, a lawyer in the General Counsel's Office who investigated McHugh's charges, said no student had filed a complaint against Player with the university at the time.

  16. Player, who is now dean of the law school at Santa Clara University in California, could not be reached for comment.

  17. Weidner wouldn't respond to McHugh's other charges but said he would welcome anyone looking into how he treated the veteran professor.

  18. "I'm proud that I have justification for all of my decisions," Weidner said. "I'm delighted to have any proper authority examine my decisions and compare the evenness of them. I'm very comfortable with that."

  19. If McHugh's salary is any indication, he has not been the law school's most favored professor. McHugh is paid much less than the average salary for his counterparts at FSU's law school. The average full professor earns $104,757 a year, while McHugh's salary is $86,824.

  20. His pay raises also have been paltry. In 1997 -- the year of his discrimination complaint -- he received a 1.8 percent salary increase, while other law school professors received increases averaging 3.65 percent. McHugh has averaged a 1 percent annual raise over the past eight years.

  21. Though a professor's salary is public record, his evaluations are not. As a result, there are no public records explaining why McHugh's raises were so low.

  22. This year -- after his reprimand by D'Alemberte -- he received the same pay raise as most other university employees: 2.78 percent.

  23. University officials insist McHugh was never discriminated against. In his complaint, McHugh said younger faculty members who have complained about their co-workers did not suffer retaliation, while he did.

  24. "His assertion that he made some complaint against Player, nothing was done about it and he was thereafter discriminated against, whereas younger professors made complaints and had not had anything done to them -- that was a leap to me," said FSU's General Counsel Alan Sundberg. "And our position was that this complaint of age discrimination was absolutely unfounded."

  25. Charges and

  26. Sundberg said the university began investigating McHugh's complaint but stopped after learning he might be dropping the charges.

  27. McHugh's discrimination charge was filed just two months before D'Alemberte reprimanded him in response to the Kollas complaint, telling him to clean up his behavior and language.

  28. In the letter, D'Alemberte, who was dean of the law school from 1984 to 1989, said he considered McHugh a "valuable asset" to both the law school and its students. But he ordered him to curtail his "insensitive behavior" or face further action.

  29. "I feel compelled to remind you that there have been prior discussions between the university administration and you regarding this conduct," D'Alemberte wrote in the June 24, 1997, letter. "The need for today's meeting underscores the university's commitment to high standards of conduct. As president of the university, and as a colleague and friend, I would encourage you to take the matters we discussed today to heart."

  30. D'Alemberte, who is out of the country, could not be reached this week for comment.

  31. Sundberg and Schmidt said McHugh was offered no inducement to drop his complaint with the human relations commission, and they didn't know why he did.

  32. McHugh notified the university in a letter earlier this year that he would no longer pursue his discrimination complaint, saying it was "a long and hard decision."

  33. He did not indicate the reason for dropping the complaint. But he did say he felt he had not been given a chance to respond to attacks on his reputation. And he denied he ever harassed any students.

  34. "Some say I can be obnoxious, intransigent, abrasive, irreverent to certain orthodoxies, Falstaffian, or unreasonably demanding; perhaps my 1;2cwife of 40 years might concur. And one supposes there will be some students or faculty who will be alienated," he wrote.

  35. "But I have not crossed the line of unprofessional conduct; and I am not a sexist or a racist. I believe the vast majority of students, as in the past, would concur."

  36. Democrat Staff Writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report.

  37. Leonora LaPeter is a higher education reporter. She can be reached at 599-2306. Her e-mail address is

  38. Posted at 12:29 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 9, 1998

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This is a page in the section entitled Why Can't Law Schools Teach Ethics? --FSU in the Web site entitled Legal Reform through Transforming the Discipline of Law into a Science .