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Lawsuit filed against TMCC alleges retaliation (updated)


Image: Carla O’Day

A Truckee Meadows Community College faculty member is alleging he faced retaliation by TMCC administrators after making repeated attempts to report what he considered racial harassment.

William Gallegos, a longtime math professor at the institution, said that he reported in good faith what he believed was a discriminatory environment.

Specifically, another math professor is alleged to have routinely sent emails to all faculty and staff that “repeatedly postured himself as an ‘egalitarian’ white man,” according to the suit filed in district court by attorney Mark Mausert.

Others, however, said that they were concerned about Gallegos’ behavior. One colleague said “he was in fear of his life as the result of [Gallegos’] presence,” according to the complaint.

The suit alleges that TMCC officials did not investigate the colleague’s statements, which led up to an outburst between the person and Gallegos. Gallegos was subsequently banned from campus.

“Plaintiff was told [his colleague] had a right to engage in conduct as racial harassment because [he] was possessed of ‘academic freedom.’”

“On February 21, 2019, TMCC Human Resources Director Veronica Fox admitted she was unaware of any explanation for why [Gallegos] had been banned and restricted by TMCC’s President [Karin Hilgersom]…” the lawsuit explains.

Gallegos, by order of Hilgersom, was banned from TMCC campuses from October 2018 through at least February 23, 2019, the complaint alleges.

Fox allegedly noted that Gallegos was hostile. At one point, university police visited Gallegos at home, according to his complaint.

“Plaintiff was told [his colleague] had a right to engage in conduct as racial harassment because [he] was possessed of ‘academic freedom,’” the suit alleges.

Gallegos claims that his complaints against the faculty were not properly investigated; instead, he said that TMCC officials retaliated against him.

“The allegations against [him] were bogus,” Mausert said. “They were completely unsupported. They appear to be part of a campaign to go after his tenured job.

“He goes in after years of complaining, and TMCC’s own employees admit that those emails could be perceived as racist. How in God’s name to justify banishing this guy?

“His complaint is protected activity,” Mausert continued. “That employee in good faith made a complaint. They are prohibited from taking adverse action. Instead they removed him from campus for four months.”

TMCC officials denied any wrongdoing.

“We are disappointed that baseless and unfounded allegations about the TMCC administration continue to be publicized, distracting from the great work done by the institution,” said TMCC spokesperson Kate Kirkpatrick. “TMCC has been recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and we foster inclusion and diversity among faculty and students alike.”

Retaliation allegations revisited

Gallegos’ allegations are similar to those by another faculty member, Kyle Simmons, who was denied tenure after complaining about being physically grabbed by TMCC administrators.

Many have expressed concern at what they are calling “a negative labor relations environment…with multiple administration decisions that we find highly questionable,” a faculty representative said.

They are also concerned about what they said were higher-ed officials acting with impunity — not following their own rules or procedures.

Dr. Karin Hilgersom, TMCC President.

“I do feel that the behaviors of Karin Hilgersom and Chancellor Thom Reilly have created a hostile work environment akin to what I have recently read about Traci Davis and the WCSD,” Simmons said. “My colleague Tom Cardoza and I have both filed NERC/EEOC complaints about Discrimination, Harassment, and/or Retaliation over the last year and the NSHE/TMCC officials have refused to take part in the Informal Settlement Meeting process.”

Simmons said he reported a grabbing incident to TMCC human resources and, despite a unanimous vote for tenure approval, he was later denied continued employment at TMCC.

He said that he was following the recommendations laid out by system of higher education attorney, John Albrecht, as part of a sexual harassment training.

“Some of us may be touchy-feely people, but remember that everyone has the right to their personal space,” Albrecht said in the training video. “It is best not to touch people without their permission.”

In a response to Simmons’ lawsuit, Albrecht said that Simmons must “show a causal link exists between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.”

“He has some of the best student evaluations we have ever seen, and he performs service to the department and the college at a much higher level than most faculty.”

Since the act of being grabbed took place more than four months before being denied tenure, Albrecht said, that link could not be demonstrated.

TMCC claimed that Simmons did not receive tenure because he said the F-word in class, had an “unwelcome environment in class” and did not have adequate service requirements.

“Although somewhat subjective, perhaps most disappointing in the application presented by Dr. Simmons is the flippant tone related to the areas that are clearly unsatisfactory,” TMCC President Hilgersom wrote. “The application does not reveal a colleague who ‘possesses integrity and the capacity for further significant intellectual and professional achievement’” according to NSHE policies.

Other faculty members said that’s not true. The three faculty who recommended Simmons for tenure immediately protested after Hilgersom turned him down.

“The committee … finds that the reasons you gave Dr. Simmons for denial of tenure are: based entirely on hearsay, unsubstantiated or nonexistent complaints, personal opinions, and selective interpretations,” they wrote. “Dr. Simmons has the deep and widespread respect of his peers and his students. He has some of the best student evaluations we have ever seen, and he performs service to the department and the college at a much higher level than most faculty.”

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include statements from Gallegos’ attorney and a TMCC official. The complaint is also included below.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.