UNION COUNTY, NJ — A high official in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said they are investigating Kean University for firing a large number of African-American women on suspicious grounds.
According to information obtained by LocalSource, at issue is why Kean President Dawood Farahi quietly settled lawsuits involving discrimination of female faculty members in good standing at the university.
One in particular involves a female Kean director that was laid off in order to pave the way for Kean Human Resources Director Faruque Chowdhury, who was appointed in 2003, the year Farahi became president.
According to documents obtained through the Open Public Records Act, when Chowdhury was appointed there were other Kean employees with extensive experience in human resources, including Richeleen Dashield, an African-American woman.
Dashield was removed from the position shortly before Chowdhury was appointed because she refused to do what the lawsuit called a “despicable” deed that Farahi requested.
Also qualified for the position was the human resources associate director, Paula White, also African-American, who was removed when Chowdhury was appointed.
Questions surround the appointment of Chowdhury, who earns $131,605 annually, but lacked any experience in human resources.
Information obtained through OPRA shows that while this director has accounting and management experience at Kean, he had no other qualifications for the position.
Chowdhury’s resume noted that he worked at Kean from 1982 until 2003 in two accounting positions, including as the manager of the Office of Student Accounting. The second position, which he assumed in 1986, involved revenue management, accounts receivable, meal plan operations, account collections and the supervision of 18 full-time and three part-time staff. It did not, however, involve any human resources work.
Also at issue is multiple civil rights employment discrimination lawsuits against Kean University and Farahi that involve other African-American female employees in high ranking positions.
Sherrell Holderman, an African-American woman in her 60’s, had alleged age, gender and race discrimination in her lawsuit against the university and Farahi in 2012.
The director of Passport, a program that helps academically unprepared students, Holderman accepted a five-year contract running from 2008 to 2013 after an excellent evaluation. Then in September 2010, she received a layoff notice along with 11 other professionals at Kean. In her lawsuit, she alleged a “discriminatory pattern” was evident in these layoffs.
Janet Allen, also an African-American woman in her 60s, alleged that Kean discriminated against her based on age and race. She worked as director at the University Center from 1996 until 2008 and never had a bad evaluation. This former employee had a total of 30 years experience in higher education when she was let go.
Kean, her lawsuit said, did not advertise the vacancy, “preventing the consideration for the position of all qualified persons of all races, ages, genders, ethnicities and religions. Instead, the position went to Matthew Caruso, a young white male and a “Farahi ally,” according to sources.
Allen claimed in her lawsuit that her layoff “follows a pattern and practice” of the university and Farahi in “terminating the employment of African-American directors and professionals.”
Another former employee who worked for four decades at Kean also brought a lawsuit against the university.
Beverly Berry Baker was the director of Kean’s Exceptional Educational Opportunity Program, a state-funded program that assists disadvantaged students enroll and graduate from college. This program had received the state’s highest rankings, but Baker alleged that after Farahi became president, the university “began harassing and discriminating against her and other African-American female administrators and faculty. This, her lawsuit claimed, involved unnecessary audits, suspension without pay for 30 days and “the three worst job performance reviews of her career.”
The lawsuit also contended that Kean actions “constituted a constructive discharge,” or a forced resignation. This lawsuit was settled, but the amount is unknown.