UM settles discrimination lawsuit with 18 current and former employees

The University of Montana and a group of 18 plaintiffs who claimed that they had been the victims of systemic discrimination have settled the case
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The University of Montana and a group of 18 plaintiffs, including several high-ranking former administrators, who claimed that they had been the victims of systemic discrimination have settled the case which was filed in federal court.

The agreement made between the 18 members, which included at least one current employee, calls for a $350,000 settlement and a review of the University of Montana’s current Title IX training and processes by an outside, third-party review, the Daily Montanan reports.

The settlement said that review will happen in the next year, and that both UM and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education will follow those recommendations.

The University of Montana and OCHE will also “provide universally available Title IX training for all employees to include sex-based harm, discrimination, mandatory reporting and sexual harassment.”

In a statement by the University of Montana, a spokesperson said that it already provides that training to students and employees.

“We are happy to have that confirmed by yet another external expert,” said Dave Kuntz, UM spokesman.

The settlement is the culmination of a suit that began in 2021. Attorneys for the employees and former employees had tried to make it a class-action suit but were ultimately unsuccessful in that attempt.

Attorney Hillary Carls of Bozeman, one of two attorneys who represented the group, said her clients included deans, graduate students, a vice president, a museum director, a tenured professor, a coach, a musician and a scientist, among others.

“Despite their wide-ranging experiences, their collective goal of impacting positive change for gender equity unified them,” Carls said in a statement.

The group of UM employees was also represented by Veronica Procter of Billings.

The University of Montana said that it remains confident that had the case proceeded to trial, it would have been victorious, but it would have resulted in a different cost.

“UM is confident that if the case had continued, we would have received additional dismissals and would have prevailed at trial,” Kuntz said. “However, continuing litigation would have taken the precious time of state employees and state resources that are better spent supporting students, faculty and staff. All parties agreed that a resolution made the most sense.”

It also provided statistics on its employment track record. Kuntz said that since 2018, 78% of all campus promotions have been female, and reports that nearly half of the deans are female.

In the settlement, the University of Montana also agreed to “increase capacity and processes for addressing employee concerns and conflicts, including creation of a single point of contact for employment concerns relating to gender and requiring Human Resources and Title IX to respond based on the nature of the concern.”

“This settlement provides UM and OCHE with this opportunity to learn, grow, and improve,” Carls said.

The case is one of three involving allegations of discrimination within the Montana University System that has been ongoing for months.

In October, a federal judge said that UM did not discriminate against former UM Lady Griz basketball coach Shannon Schweyen, another lawsuit centering on gender discrimination. Schweyen was not a part of this current lawsuit.

Meanwhile, MUS’ other flagship institution, Montana State University, is under investigation on several allegations of discrimination against women, LGBTQ+ students and those of Jewish heritage.

Those investigations are still ongoing, and more than 20 complaints have been filed to federal authorities by students there.

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