Sonya Forte Duhé is suing Loyola University New Orleans, where she taught for more than a decade, claiming the school violated her contract by not welcoming her back as a member of its faculty after Arizona State University nixed her as its next journalism dean amid allegations of racism back in June.
The lawsuit, filed Aug. 11, claims that her resignation as the director of Loyola’s communications school was effective July 31, one day before her deanship at ASU was set to begin. But when ASU removed her from being its next journalism dean on June 8, amid allegations by former Loyola students of racism and insensitivity, the filing alleges that she was still a tenured professor at Loyola who should have been welcomed back to work.
So when Loyola announced June 8 that Duhé would not be returning to the school and the search for her replacement would continue, the filing alleges the university violated its contract with Duhé.
The lawsuit claims Loyola never formally accepted Duhé’s resignation and that she rescinded her resignation from the university after losing her position at ASU.
The filing alleges Duhé was fired from being a tenured professor without cause, and asks that the court either recognize her as the current Director of Loyola’s School of Communication and Design or pay her monetary damages.
Tenured faculty at Loyola can only be terminated “for cause,” which includes a grave offense against Catholic moral values, such as “the practice of racism in any phase of University life,” among other reasons, according to the Loyola Faculty Handbook.
In a public statement, Loyola said it aims to address the accusations in court.
“Loyola is aware of the lawsuit. It is our belief that these claims are best addressed through the course of litigation and (we) will respond to them through that process accordingly,” the statement read.
The lawsuit comes after ASU fired Duhé in the wake of reporting by The Maroon and The State Press uncovered allegations by more than a dozen former and current Loyola students of racist and insensitive conduct by Duhé, who worked at Loyola from 2009 through 2020. Two former students, both Black women, told The Maroon they filed racial bias reports with human resources regarding Duhé’s conduct in 2014 and 2019 that they said focused on their natural hair and physical appearances in broadcast journalism.
“Of course we have an obligation to advise and warn students about these biases and expectations in the profession. But we must do so while making clear how unfair those unwritten rules are in their application, how rooted they are in the oppression of people of color, particularly women,” University President Tania Tetlow said in a letter to students regarding Duhé back in June
Because the results of university human resources investigations are private, it is not clear what happened as a result of either formal complaint or what actions the university took in response to them.
In her letter, Tetlow acknowledged that the system for addressing human resources complaints is imperfect.
“I hear with dismay the expressions of deep pain by students who felt that the implied limits of their opportunities were expressed as fact, without regret or acknowledgement of the deep injustice embedded in those limits. I apologize on behalf of the University that Loyola did not do a better job of fixing this situation that was, in fact, brought to our attention,” Tetlow said in the letter.
Requests made after hours for comment from Duhé and her attorneys were not returned.