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Former university registrar awarded damages in suit against USF

Angela DeBose, former university registrar, alleged incidents of discrimination and retaliation in her case against USF. ORACLE PHOTO/CHAVELI GUZMAN    

A federal jury in Tampa ruled in favor of Angela DeBose,  former USF registrar, on Sept. 26 following claims that her termination in 2015 was a result of retaliation, but her allegations of racial discrimination were not judged to be the sole determining factor in her dismissal.

DeBose was awarded $310,500 in damages as a result of the retaliation verdict. USF plans to appeal.

DeBose, an African-American woman, said the retaliation was a result of her filing racial discrimination complaints, both internally and with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. DeBose said she was passed over for a high-ranking job in Enrollment Planning and Management and the position eventually was given to another USF employee.

DeBose cited Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as grounds for the suit, which says it is “an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to (their) compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

The jury found that “race was a motivating factor” when USF terminated DeBose, but it also ruled that the university would have dismissed DeBose even if race was not taken into account. A consultant hired by the university said that the Registrar’s Office, under DeBose, was “not willing to encompass change,” among other findings.

DeBose’s damage award, which included compensation for loss of wages and benefits, stemmed, in part, from her claim that she was denied a position at another state university after an unflattering reference from a USF official.

Richard McCrea, the university’s outside legal representation in the case, was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

DeBose, who represented herself, said the jury verdict was fair and added that the dollar amount awarded to her may not impact the university very much financially, but that it should affect the pride of the university.

“USF has nothing to be proud of,” DeBose said in an email to The Oracle. “In fact, USF should feel ashamed that its actions were believed to be motivated by race and that it retaliated against me—in violation of Title VII.    

“Because USF has spent so much more many times over than the jury award of $310,500, the amount itself may not sting or make a difference; however, the verdict itself certainly should have had an impact. As a higher education institution, USF should have learned from this … but it is apparent USF has learned nothing.”

Adam Freeman, a university spokesperson said the university plans to appeal the decision.

“We are pleased the jury recognized the University of South Florida’s legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons to remove Ms. DeBose from her position,” Freeman said in an email to The Oracle. “However, we respectfully disagree with the finding that USF retaliated against Ms. DeBose in any way. USF values inclusion and diversity, and we strive to maintain a welcoming and collegial environment. We look forward to vigorously pursuing an appeal in this case.”

DeBose said the university’s plans to appeal point to a level of “bitterness” that has been directed toward her throughout the case and added that an appeal may “deal yet another blow to its image and wallet.”

In a subsequent phone interview with The Oracle, DeBose added that it was not her initial plan to represent herself in the case and by doing so, she faced a set of unique challenges.

She said, especially since the case was so deeply personal, that trying to detach herself from the emotions of the case so that she could “effectively argue from a legal standpoint, as well as a factual standpoint” was difficult because of the stake that she had in it.

As far as what she hoped would have gone differently, DeBose, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from USF and worked for the university for 27 years, said she wished her exit could have been more respectful.

“I just would have preferred a different sort of exit,” DeBose said. “One that was respectful. One that was civil. One that reflected and showed appreciation to me for my contributions to USF.”