The city of Richmond’s interim director of human resources is suing Norfolk State University for age and sex-based discrimination, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.
The lawsuit was filed Nov. 12 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of Mona Adkins-Easley, a former associate vice president for human resources at NSU.
The 65-year-old was appointed Richmond’s interim director of human resources in October 2019.
In the lawsuit, Adkins-Easley says Norfolk State failed to renew her contract, forcing her to retire early, and violated discrimination laws.
Adkins-Easley and her lawyer, Pamela Johnson Branch of PJB Law, said in the lawsuit that the university violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
They also allege that Norfolk State violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which protects applicants and employees who are 40 or older from age-based discrimination.
In 2018, NSU settled a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by the woman whom Adkins-Easley, essentially, replaced.
Branch said they have no comment on the current suit.
A spokesman for Norfolk State University said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss pending litigation, and the university’s policy prevents the school from discussing personnel matters.
The lawsuit said Adkins-Easley worked at the university for eight months before she became associate vice president for human resources on Sept. 3, 2014.
She “performed her job according to the legitimate work expectations of the University and according to her job description,” according to the documents.
Between Feb. 1, 2017, and March 31, 2017, she took Family and Medical Leave to recover after cancer surgery.
According to the lawsuit, she received during that leave an email from a younger male employee who worked under her named Sylvester Watkins.
He wrote that he was resigning to take another state position, according to the lawsuit, and “made it clear to Ms. Adkins-Easley that he was unhappy that she did not place him in charge of the Human Resources Office while she was on leave.”
She took leave again on Jan. 13, 2018, due to injuries from a car accident, and when she returned to work around Feb. 15, found out she had been removed from her position on the Executive Cabinet, a university leadership group.
Her title was changed to human resources director and she had three choices: quit, retire or accept a position for lower pay.
On March 28, 2018, she received a letter from then-Interim President Melvin Stith Sr. saying her employment would end Sept. 30, 2018.
“Ms. Adkins-Easley was given no credible explanation as to why her contract was not being renewed despite efforts made to obtain this information,” the lawsuit read.
She also said she was the only cabinet member of non-vice president level removed from the Executive Cabinet while male, non-vice president cabinet members kept their jobs.
According to the lawsuit, she was replaced by Watkins, who she says was unqualified for the position and had “campaigned to undermine” her to get the job.
Adkins-Easley filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge on May 28, 2018, and received a notice of right to sue on Aug. 22, 2020.
According to the lawsuit, if Norfolk State planned to terminate her contract, school officials had to abide by the school’s administrative and professional faculty handbook and consult the appropriate vice president, dean or department head.
“It is not clear that (Norfolk State) followed this process since it is equally unclear that Dr. Leroy Hamilton, former Vice President, was consulted on this decision,” the lawsuit said.
Adkins-Easley also alleges that Hamilton had presented no complaints with the way she managed her department, and said she was terminated after she complained that Stith and Chief of Staff Carl Haywood had harassed her and her staff regarding her approved FMLA and sick leave between January and February 2018.
Adkins-Easley is requesting a jury trial.
If the court rules in her favor, she’s asking for back pay, front pay or lost salary and benefits and pay differential since September 2018. That includes interest and benefits, compensatory and punitive damages and reasonable attorney’s fees.
In addition to filing her own lawsuit against Norfolk State University, Adkins-Easley was named in a June 2016 racial discrimination case involving the school.
Former Director of Human Resources Edie Rogan said she faced discrimination as a white employee at the university.
She said the school created a position called special assistant to the president for human resources to make her job irrelevant, and gave it to Adkins-Easley — an African American woman.
Norfolk State agreed in May 2018 to pay Rogan and her attorney $145,000.