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White former employee sues Lincoln University with discrimination claim

A former employee of Lincoln University filed a lawsuit against the institution May 31 over alleged discrimination on the basis of race.

Sheila Gassner, a 55-year-old white woman, worked for the public university for nearly 30 years before her discharge on July 31, 2018.

Most recently serving as LU’s executive director of facilities and planning, Gassner claimed in the lawsuit that her compensation was comparatively less than that of her African-American counterparts.

In 2013, the lawsuit stated, buildings and grounds director Mark Friedman was fired and his responsibilities, for which the university was paying Friedman an annual salary of $64,415, were assigned to Gassner.

For the extra responsibilities, Gassner said she was only provided a one-time, 1.8 percent raise, along with the standard cost of living adjustments.

The lawsuit alleged that Gassner was told by her supervisor, Jerome Offord, that she could either take the additional responsibilities or be fired. Offord, the lawsuit said, claimed the reason the university could not compensate Gassner more was that it could not afford it.

The 37-page petition spells out multiple instances where Gassner’s African-American co-workers were paid more for what she argued were fewer responsibilities.

This lawsuit comes after former human resources Director Jim Marcantonio, a white man, sued the university, claiming racial discrimination led to his dismissal in 2018.

That case followed a similar one by former Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Annette Digby, who claimed she was forced to resign because she is white.

Marcantonio’s case has not yet been scheduled for trial, and Digby’s lawsuit ended with a hung jury.

Digby’s attorney, Roger Brown, refiled the case, which was settled in late 2018.

Records from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office show a combined payout of $350,000 to Digby and Brown.

Another former LU employee, Kenneth Ferguson, sued the college after his 2012 dismissal, alleging that age was a factor. That case led to the university having to pay out more than $100,000 to Ferguson.

Gassner’s case has not yet been scheduled for any hearings in Cole County court.

Lincoln University said it would not comment on pending litigation.

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