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USF may be in hot water over sex discrimination and harassment suit

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

A former University of South Florida professor is suing the school for sexual discrimination and harassment after years of complaints.

Jill Brasky was an assistant professor of music theory at USF Tampa from 2007 until this month. She was denied a tenure application and her employment subsequently terminated in 2014.

The school claims her application for tenure was denied based on insufficient original research as required by the school for such a promotion. But Brasky claims the director of the department continually created an unfair and unreasonable workload, making it difficult for her to maintain her research obligations.

The complaints go back to 2009 when Brasky filed a complaint with the USF Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity alleging her then immediate supervisor, former director of the USF School of Music Wade Weast, passed her an inappropriate note during a faculty meeting.

The note was an advertisement on pink paper for private pole dancing lessons. Weast allegedly told her as he handed her the paper that it made him think of her.

According to a lawsuit filed in federal court, Brasky immediately concealed the note and pretended to laugh, fearing other members of faculty had seen it.

“USF DEO handled Brasky’s complaint in an unreasonable and unfair manner that denied her the benefits of participation in the legal compliance programs operated by and through USF DEO. The unfair and unreasonable handling of Brasky’s complaint caused her to be subjected to further discrimination, as well as retaliation on the basis of sex by Weast,” the federal suit reads.

Brasky allegedly did not realize the case had been handled in what she considered an unfair manner until September of last year when a copy of the file associated with her complaint was given to her attorney.

At that time Brasky noticed that her complaint had been dismissed with relatively little consequence to Weast after a “secret” agreement was made between Weast and the DEO.

That alleged agreement required only that Weast issue an apology to Brasky for his conduct, which he did by placing a four line note into her mailbox.

“I sincerely apologize for the remarks I made on February 12, 2009, during the search committee meeting which you were coordinating. I made this comment without thinking of the direct ramifications it would have. It was wrong and showed a callous disregard for appropriate behavior,” the note read.

Brasky’s complaint resulted in a “finding of fact” that the “admitted misconduct by Weast did not rise to the level of sexual harassment.”

As for her allegations that Weast was unfairly burdening her with a heavy and cumbersome workload, the DEO found that the “conditions of employment were within the academic and internal processes within the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

That determination meant no further investigation would be taken.

Brasky claims in two separate lawsuits, the one in federal court and another in Hillsborough County, the dismissal of the complaint led to continued “sex discrimination and retaliation by Weast to punish her for her participation in the USF DEO education program.”

Brasky also alleges her required work requirements were above the normal level for a research-driven university such as USF. Brasky was hired for a one-year term as a visiting associate professor of music theory. In 2008 she was given a tenure-tack position.

During her first two years as tenure-track, Brasky says she was forced to take on several administrative duties including continuing her original role as coordinator of music theory. She was also required to serve as chair of the USF School of Music Curriculum Committee and to lead a comprehensive redesign of USF’s undergrad music theory curriculum.

“It is unusual for a tenure-track assistant professor at a University such as USF to be assigned the large number of administrative duties assigned to Brasky by Weast,” the federal lawsuit reads. “The typical practice at USF is to minimize the administrative responsibilities of tenure-track junior faculty in order to allow junior faculty members to devote a substantial amount of their time to developing original research.”

The administrative duties caused Brasky to allegedly spend 60-80 hours a week meeting just her basic duties and left little additional room for original research.

Brasky claims that even when she tried to protect what little time she had for research, Weast scolded her for it. He allegedly asked her to take on another committee assignment and when she refused, he said her behavior was “non-collegial.”

Brasky claims the same workload was not given to male colleagues. She cites one instance in particular in which a male colleague was given a reprieve in his teaching load by allowing him to combine classes. When Brasky asked for a similar arrangement, she was denied.

She also alleges that same faculty member earned more pay than her even though their responsibilities and qualifications were similar.

Brasky’s federal lawsuit seeks both compensatory and punitive damages. She claims emotional distress, anxiety, loss of professional respect and loss of wages as a result of the continued harassment and discrimination.

The suit filed in Hillsborough County is to compel USF to enter into arbitration with Brasky. The federal suit was filed in March. The Hillsborough suit was filed last week.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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