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
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER
All content © 1998 The Tallahassee Democrat
- Florida State University law professor Bill McHugh has been teaching
labor law -- and sexual harassment and discrimination law in particular --
for 25 years.
- So when a student in his contracts class formally charged him with
sexual harassment and racism in 1996, McHugh turned to what he knows
- 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.
- 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.
- McHugh's strategy may well have worked.
- 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
- 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.
McHugh has been the target
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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."
- 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.
- Player, who is now dean of the law school at Santa Clara University in
California, could not be reached for comment.
- Weidner wouldn't respond to McHugh's other charges but said he would
welcome anyone looking into how he treated the veteran professor.
- "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."
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- This year -- after his reprimand by D'Alemberte -- he received the
same pay raise as most other university employees: 2.78 percent.
- 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.
- "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
- Sundberg said the university began investigating McHugh's complaint
but stopped after learning he might be dropping the charges.
- 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.
- 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.
- "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."
- D'Alemberte, who is out of the country, could not be reached this week
- 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
- 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."
- 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.
- "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.
- "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."
- Democrat Staff Writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report.
- Leonora LaPeter is a higher education reporter. She can be reached at
599-2306. Her e-mail address is email@example.com
- Posted at 12:29 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 9,
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Schools Teach Ethics? --FSU in the Web site entitled Legal Reform through Transforming the Discipline of Law
into a Science .