A lawsuit filed in the Monongalia County Circuit Court this week by a former Black employee alleges racial discrimination and harassment against the West Virginia University Board of Governors and Brice Knotts, his former supervisor.
The former employee, Wayne Van Ellis, began working for WVU IT Services in January 2018 as a consultant and eventually as the assistant director of Academic Enterprise Applications – Banner Operations, a system that stores student and employee information.
Van Ellis said in the suit the defendants collectively engaged in a pattern and practice of employment discrimination, harassment and both intentional and systemic retaliation, on the basis of race and disability. He suffers from anxiety, depression and panic disorder.
The lawsuit stated Van Ellis was constantly challenged on his work and always was made to explain his decisions. Caucasian and non-disabled employees were not challenged on their work like he was, the document said.
“The harassment went on for at least a year and a half and everything he attempted to do on the job was met with resistance and hostilities,” the lawsuit stated. “He was constantly fighting an uphill battle just to do his job and was extremely stressed at having to validate his work.”
Co-workers would make comments about Van Ellis the suit claimed, saying things like he is “angry and aggressive and people are afraid of him, people don’t like working with him, he’s intimidating.”
Van Ellis said they were “stereotypical buzzwords that people use against Black men.”
In the lawsuit, it states Van Ellis filed several written complaints and requested action be taken by his supervisors, but little to no action was taken to investigate his complaints.
Van Ellis alleges that his immediate supervisor, Knotts, not only entertained gossip from co-workers, but ratified and encouraged it from the team. The suit states that Knotts and other co-workers create a hostile work environment with constant belittling and racist comments as well as constant attempts to undermine Van Ellis’ job.
“I relocated to Morgantown from California because I was committed to what I thought WVU stood for. I wanted to play a vital role in improving and enhancing information technology services to students, faculty, staff and administration,” Van Ellis said in a statement to The Dominion Post Friday.
“I impeccably performed these duties, yet I was unceremoniously fired after serving for over two years and after making multiple internal complaints of harassment. I have suffered stress, embarrassment and humiliation at the hands of colleagues and supervisors, and WVU did nothing to prevent these actions, or hold these people, especially supervisors, accountable,” he said.
According to the lawsuit, Van Ellis spoke with another supervisor who him he believed the discrimination was occuring, but was powerless to make changes because Knotts refused to acknowledge that there was harassment or that it was racially motivated.
“WVU’s statements in their internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion reports and the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission\Human Rights Commission] complaint speak for itself,” Van Ellis told The Dominion Post. “I read an article in Forbes magazine from 2019, where they state the EEOC\HRC agencies find probable cause for discrimination in less than 5% of cases filed. They found probable cause in my case.”
Van Ellis is seeking monetary relief, including court costs, attorney’s fees and expenses.
WVU is unable to comment on pending litigation.