Court rules for community college in workplace retalition case

RAYMOND — A federal appeals court has ruled for Hinds Community College in a workplace retaliation case.

In 2010, a Mississippi federal judge ordered the school to pay a former professor $345,020 after a federal jury found she had been the victim of workplace retaliation.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals reversed that decision and dismissed the lawsuit against Hinds.

Renee Summers-Akers, who taught at Hinds from 1982 until her retirement last spring, alleged she was passed over for a promotion in 2006 because she had aided a colleague who was accusing the college of racial discrimination.

For her workplace retaliation claim, she was awarded compensatory damages, as well as back pay she would have earned as the department chairwoman.

The 5th Circuit panel said Summers-Akers lost her job because she didn’t have enough graduate hours to keep it.

The panel said court records showed the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools required a teacher of economics to have had 18 semester hours of graduate study. Akers had only six hours.

With its accreditation process under way at Hinds such a deficiency by Summers-Akers and others created problems for the two-year school.

The panel said even though Hinds offered courses in 2006 to help the instructors to get up-to-date, Summers-Akers refused to do so. By the time she changed her mind in 2007 and wanted to take 12 hours in the spring of 2008, the panel said Hinds told her the course load was too great. Summers-Akers then sued Hinds.

The panel said Hinds had to follow the accreditation requirements and Summers-Akers was treated no differently than other teachers with the same problem.

The panel said there was no connection between the racial discrimination case and the employment action by the junior college.

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