Trial dates set in Robinette Kelley v. ISU trials

Students walk between Curtiss and Beardshear halls during a snowstorm on Jan. 11, 2018. Despite a 12-hour winter weather advisory, the university remained open.

K. Rambo

Trial dates have been set in the two lawsuits filed by former Iowa State Title IX Director Robinette Kelley v. Iowa State University of Science and Technology.

Federal lawsuit

The suit in federal court, a Title IX and Title VII suit, was originally filed on October 12, 2017.

Title VII is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and prohibits employment discrimination based on religion, sex, nationality, race and color.

Title IX states “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Kelley alleges she was not allowed to properly do her job after revealing Title IX violations by Iowa State when being hired in February 2015. Kelley claims she was told she was “too litigious” in how she approached her job, according to court documents.

Kelley claims that Iowa State denied her the resources necessary to do her job in a manner consistent with federal guidelines. Additionally, Kelley claims that administrators intentionally encouraged people at Iowa State to avoid reporting sexual misconduct to Kelley’s office.

“ISU administrators began to routinely exclude Ms. Kelley from processing complaints that implicated state and federal civil rights laws, including Title IX, that should have been investigated by Ms. Kelley and instead re-directed Title IX matters to the Dean of Students office,” the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit also alleges that administration at Iowa State, contrary to federal guidelines, acted directly against the suggestions of Kelley when investigating reported sexual misconduct at Iowa State.

The trial date for this case is April 1 to April 5, 2019, according to Beatriz Mate-Kodjo, an attorney working for Kelley.

State Lawsuit

Kelley filed an additional suit in Polk County on Nov. 20, 2017, alleging violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, claiming she faced discrimination during her employment because of her race and gender.

The lawsuit alleges that she was told she was to be “the face” of equal opportunity by then-chief of staff Miles Lackey, a statement, Kelley claims, that indicated she was not to assume any actual authority.

“Ms. Kelley soon learned that Lackey’s directive to be “the face” of equal opportunity on campus meant that Iowa State University expected her to be seen but not heard,” the lawsuit reads.

Kelley felt there were administrators who intentionally prevented her from doing her job how she believed the Iowa Civil Rights Act indicated she should.

“Unfortunately, various high-level administrators and university employees including but not limited to male administrators Lackey, Senior Vice President Thomas Hill and General Counsel Paul Tanaka resisted and opposed Ms. Kelley’s efforts,” the lawsuit says. “Their pushback often turned into coercion aimed at getting Ms. Kelley to back down.

“Their collective efforts were aimed at silencing Ms. Kelley who complained on behalf of students asserting their rights to equal educational or employment opportunities on the basis of their protected characteristics.”

The lawsuit did say that the pushback she alleges was beyond individuals, but a systemic issue at Iowa State.

“Ms. Kelley soon learned that Iowa State University had a system in place that made Ms. Kelley’s job to enforce the Iowa Civil Rights Act (and other civil rights laws) to prevent gender and race based discrimination and harassment on campus very difficult if not impossible,” the lawsuit says.

Kelley alleges that Lackey told her in March 2015 that spending taxpayer money on part-time staff to assist in civil rights investigations would be “inappropriate.” The lawsuit says Kelley was “expected to carry more than her fair share of key work on campus as many minorities in positions of leadership are expected to do.”

The lawsuit alleges that Kelley was treated differently from white male coworkers by some in the Iowa State administration and was wrongly terminated in October 2015, despite an exemplary employee record. The office Kelley oversaw has gone from one full-time employee at the time of her departure to seven.

“As a woman and as an employee of color, Ms. Kelley was held to a higher standard of job performance than her white and male counterparts,” the lawsuit says.

Kelley claims “women and persons of color art often hired to be the “face” of organizational diversity-related offices or initiatives and are asked to play a role rather than to engage as an equal with authority.”

The trial date for this case is set for March 11, 2019.

While trial dates are set in each case, the cases could still be dismissed or settled before reaching trial.

Same difference?

While these are two different cases, there are discrepancies in how these cases are viewed by Iowa State and Kelley’s attorneys.

“These are the same allegations and the same facts – one lawsuit is filed in state court; one is filed in federal court,” Annette Hacker, news service director at Iowa State, said in an email to the Iowa State Daily.

Mate-Kodjo sees the two lawsuits as distinctly different.

“The Title VII claim is also about race and gender discrimination in employment — so the Iowa Civil Rights Act claims are similar in that sense. The Title IX education claims are what make the federal lawsuit very different,” Mate-Kodjo said in an email to the Daily when asked about Hacker’s opinion.

Iowa State University Relations Executive Director John McCarroll responded to the Daily in an email.

“The same essential facts and employment decisions are at issue in both suits,” he said. “Ms. Kelley previously filed her complaints against the university with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and following a thorough investigation, the ICRC closed the matter after finding their investigation did not indicate a reasonable possibility of a probable cause determination against the university.

“Iowa State is confident Ms. Kelley’s court proceedings will be similarly dismissed.”