Professor files discrimination lawsuit against Illinois State | Local Education

Traffic moves west on College Avenue near the Illinois State University pedestrian overpass on the campus in Normal on March 11, 2020. A white, female education professor has filed a lawsuit alleging race and gender discrimination. 

NORMAL — An Illinois State University professor is alleging in federal court that that she was the subject of unlawful discrimination and retaliation from the university. 

Diane Dean, an associate professor in the Educational Administration and Foundations Department, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois on March 18. She brought claims of retaliation, discrimination based on race and discrimination based on gender. She is a white woman. 

The complaint said Dean had previously reported instances of “discriminatory conduct” by Lenford Sutton, chair of the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations, who is a Black man. She said she had also supported a complaint filed by a student against Sutton in 2015. Sutton is not listed as a defendant in Dean’s case.

Dean is listed on the ISU website as an associate professor teaching graduate-level courses. 

Complaint filed by Diane Dean against Illinois State University

Online federal court records do not yet show an answer to the complaint. The university does not comment on ongoing litigation, spokesman Eric Jome said.

Dean’s attorney, John A. Baker of Baker, Baker and Krajewski LLC in Springfield, said he did not have any further comment at this time. He expected it could be months before there is movement on the case.

Dean’s lawsuit noted past instances where she made internal complaints, starting in 2012 through 2019. Sutton was not chair when she made a complaint of gender discrimination in 2012. 

She said the university has retaliated against her in ways that included refusing to promote her; not allowing her to serve on committees, work in the summer or attend conferences; and downgrading her performance evaluations. She also alleged that she had been treated differently than her non-white and male peers. 

The complaint said she was told by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December that she could move forward with a lawsuit against the university. 

In 2018, another white female professor in the department, Elizabeth Timmerman Lugg, sued Sutton and the ISU Board of Trustees alleging gender and race discrimination. Judge James Shadid dismissed the case on Aug. 18, 2021, calling the claims “devoid of any merit.” 

Shadid is also the judge assigned to Dean’s case, although the parties could agree to put the case before a magistrate judge.

Dean was not party to Lugg’s case but gave a deposition. Shadid’s opinion critiqued the complaint and testimony for not providing specific evidence of discrimination or retaliation. The opinion also quoted other faculty members who did not want to serve on dissertation committees with Lugg and Dean, and said Lugg and Dean were disruptive to the department’s teaching goals, violated university ethics rules and filed unmerited complaints.

Opinion dismissing Elizabeth Lugg’s lawsuit against Illinois State University.

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Baker, Dean’s attorney, is also representing Bloomington District 87 teacher Tanya Blumenshine in her age discrimination lawsuit against that school district. That case is in discovery, with a deadline of Sept. 30.

ISU is also facing another active gender discrimination lawsuit, by Meredith Downes. That case is in discovery, with a deadline set for July 29 of this year. Downes is a professor in the Management and Quantitative Methods Department.

No hearings or deadlines have been scheduled in Dean’s lawsuit.

Contact Connor Wood at (309)820-3240. Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorkwood