COLUMBIA, Mo. - The former associate dean of the University of Missouri School of Medicine sued the school, claiming racial bias forced her from her position.
Dr. Rachel Brown filed the lawsuit Monday afternoon against the school, seeking to get her job back or for her salary and benefits paid from now until her retirement.
The medical school announced in Oct. 2016 that Brown, then the associate dean for student programs, would step down and serve as a professor of psychiatry. The lawsuit, however, claims medical school dean Patrick Delafontaine forced her from her position in an effort "to make a change in leadership," according to the lawsuit.
Brown, who is white, claims that the school made the decision due to her ideas on how to improve diversity at the school. The federal Liaison Committee for Medical Education, which accredits medical schools, cited MU in a recent review for its diversity management. Brown said she wanted the school to hire a consultant to help organize the "fragmented and misaligned" diversity initiatives the school had.
The lawsuit mentions the "significant campus unrest" at MU in 2015 that focused on the lack of diversity within the student body and faculty. Brown said she wanted the medical school to focus not just on racial and ethnic minority applicants, fearing legal risks, and wanted to consult the school's attorneys on such policies.
This, the lawsuit claims, led to Delafontaine and Dr. Warren Lockette, associate dean for diversity and inclusion, leaving her out of discussions on diversity programs. Lockette, the lawsuit claims, accused Brown of "obstructing change" at an August diversity meeting. Lockette had pushed for "an aggressive increase in the number of out-of-state students at the School of Medicine," the lawsuit said, and increasing the number of scholarships for "underrepresented" racial and ethnic applicants.
Brown brought up the potential for civil rights issues with trying to get a certain percentage of "underrepresented" students and "did not constitute unlawful race preferences," the lawsuit said. The petition said Lockette attacked Brown's position and in-state students.
"Lockette believed that Missouri students were too parochial and referred to Missouri resident students as 'bumpkins, hicks and illiterates who lived in Hootersville,'" according to the lawsuit. "Lockette made similar statements about Missouri medical resident students on more than one occasion.
Two months after that meeting, Delafontaine told Brown he would be replacing her with Dr. Laine Young-Walker, an African-American professor of child psychiatry.
"Delafontaine succumbed to outside pressure in removing Dr. Brown from the Associate Dean position because she opposed race preferences that had not been reviewed by legal counsel for compliance with the civil rights laws," the lawsuit said.
A spokesperson for the school of medicine declined to comment on an active lawsuit.
Paul Gardner and Patrick Starke, the Blue Springs-based attorneys for Brown, did not return a request for comment.
Brown's treatment and removal caused an uproar among students and faculty there. A town hall held between students and Delafontaine in Nov. 2016 went into a "tense and divided" feeling among students. Dr. Linda Headrick, senior associate dean of education, left her post in Dec. 2016 over Brown's treatment.
The LCME also noted a need for improvement in the medical school's student treatment, affiliation agreements and curriculum management by 2018.
The medical school's most recent incoming class has 128 students, 32 percent of which identified as an ethnic minority. Nine percent of the class come from "underrepresented" minority classes. 81 percent are from Missouri.