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Former professor slaps MC Law with wrongful termination suit

Entrance to Mississippi College's Clinton Campus
Entrance to Mississippi College's Clinton Campus
Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 5:40 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A former professor at Mississippi College School of Law has filed a wrongful termination suit, saying she was fired after suffering years of gender discrimination and for failing to lie to investigators about it during the school’s reaccreditation process.

On October 8, Vicki Lowery Leech filed suit in federal court for breach of contract/wrongful termination, gender discrimination, and race discrimination.

Leech, who is white, previously was the director of advocacy programs at MC.

She alleges the school wanted to get rid of her for complaining to accreditors about the discriminatory workplace and to replace her with a younger, less-expensive professor.

The former professor also claims the administration was planning to replace her with a Black professor to help increase the school’s diversity.

Leech had been with the school for years, having been brought on by the downtown Jackson institution in 2005 to help revamp its advocacy programs. Advocacy programs are designed to provide law students with skills training, such as trial litigation and brief writing.

“At one point, MC Law’s Moot Court Program was ranked 4th among law schools across the nation, bringing national attention,” according to court documents. “Likewise, Professor (Leech’s) student advocate frequently competed in (and won) invitation-only competitions reserved for the best Moot Court teams from law schools across the United States.”

However, the lawsuit claims that beginning in 2014, Leech “began to experience discrimination that would ultimately result in her termination from MC Law, in violation of her (tenured) status and federal law.”

According to court documents, the problems began after Jonathan Will, a white male, was named associate dean.

She said Will would “thwart” Leech’s efforts to secure additional funding for the advocacy program and would publicly malign the program in faculty meetings and other public settings.

She further states that Will denied her the “academic freedom” that comes with having tenured status and that she “became a frequent target of Associate Dean Will’s attacks, retaliation, and harassment. Indeed... she received unfounded criticism and was subject to countless sanctions.”

Law schools provide faculty with a 405(c) status, which gives them similar protections as tenure, including longer contracts and more academic freedoms.

Meanwhile, she said that Will “supported the academic instruction and pursuits of male colleagues, rarely, if ever, challenging their professional opinions as inadequate...” and would never entertain any criticism of his own work.

“On one such occasion, after (Leech) expressed academic concerns regarding the direction of the legal writing program, Associate Dean Will publicly removed (her) from a committee assignment in an open meeting” something that had not happened before at the school.

Leech was reinstated to the position after she informed Dean Patricia Bennett, but no disciplinary action was taken against Will, the claim states.

Leech goes on to state that Will eventually prevented her from teaching legal writing and appellate advocacy courses and that she was replaced in those classes by “inexperienced, younger and cheaper professors.”

The former professor said she approached Bennett numerous times regarding Will’s “discriminatory and bullying behavior,” but nothing was done.

In 2020, Leech alleges more actions were taken against her after Will and Bennett “assumed that Professor (Leech) had complained” about the situation.

Every few years, the American Bar Association (ABA) conducts reviews of law schools to determine accreditation. The accreditation process includes interviews with faculty members.

Court records indicate that during the review, ABA’s site team “received multiple reports of discrimination, retaliation, and bullying based on race and gender, including reports of actions by members of the law school administration toward faculty members.”

Leech further alleges that as a result, the administration called covert meetings to do away with the advocacy program and later told faculty members that ABA required some or all of the school’s existing tenured contracts to be terminated.

At one of those meetings, she says “Dean Bennett also represented that unless some or all of the 405(c) faculty members were terminated, she would have to start terminating or reducing the salaries of the tenured and tenure-track professors present at the meeting.”

Court records indicate that ABA actually wanted MC Law to give additional professors tenure protection.

Bennett, who is Black, recommended terminating two professors, including Leech, Leech claims.

The faculty voted 8-8 to do away with the “Appellate Advocacy Program,” which would terminate Leech’s contract.

Because of the tie, Bennett was supposed to cast the deciding vote, but refused to, records show.

“The administration had no intention of actually eliminating or modifying the Advocacy Program – only to eliminate Professor (Leech) and her role in it.”

She says she was later offered a one-year contract extension, but without the protections of tenure.

Leech is seeking damages and a court injunction to prevent the school from continuing the advocacy program during the duration of her case.

Bennett and Will could not be reached for comment.

A copy of the suit is shown below.

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