Lawsuit claims TSU discriminates against white students

Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 3:11am

A lawsuit was filed late yesterday in federal court against Tennessee State University, alleging practices of racial discrimination and retaliation by members of the school's faculty and staff.

Nashville attorneys Hal Hardin, Jeffery "Chip" Frensley and Bill Herbert filed Cela vs. Tennessee State University on behalf of Clarksville resident and Guam native Angela Cela.

The defendants in this case are Tennessee State University, professors Dr. Iris Johnson-Arnold and Dr. Tina Smith and Dr. Harold R. Mitchell, a department head.

In the suit — which is available at this link — Cela alleges that professors Smith and Johnson-Arnold, who served as advisers to TSU students regarding grant funding, and Mitchell, who was the head of the TSU Department of Speech and Audiology, “engaged in a systematic policy of unlawful practices of discrimination by creating a pervasive hostile environment based upon race, color, or national origin with respect to grading practices and in the awarding of grant monies to the Plaintiff and others similarly situated.”

Hardin and Frensley are known to many in the community for prevailing in the lawsuit against the Nashville U.S. Attorney's office and then-U.S. Attorney Jim Vines, in the age discrimination lawsuit of Moon vs. Department of Justice.

Asked about the Cela case, Hardin told The City Paper that discrimination against anyone “is hurtful, illegal, and causes suffering in a lot of areas, particularly a financially strapped student.”

“The Constitution protects all people from discrimination. This is not a white-versus-black lawsuit,” Hardin said. “The proof will show that some very courageous African-Americans stood shoulder to shoulder with the white students and said, ‘This is wrong.’”

Hardin added that he didn’t think Cela would be the only plaintiff, stating, “The lawsuit alleges that there are numerous other white students that have been discriminated against and we anticipate that other students will be joining the suit. TSU is one of the proud, great treasures of our community, and it deserves to finally be free of all of the shackles of discrimination.”

TSU is no stranger to race-related legal allegations. A long-standing civil rights case was filed by plaintiff Rita Sands Geier against the state of Tennessee and the U.S. government in 1968, and wasn’t dismissed until 2006. The case, which targeted alleged segregation in Tennessee’s higher education system, expanded to include a TSU faculty member and others in the 1970s. That led to a court-ordered merger of TSU and the University of Tennessee at Nashville, which in turn led to merger-related grievances filed in the 1980s.

Finally, in 2000, the Geier Consent Decree ordered that millions be invested in contributing to the diversity of all state-funded colleges in Tennessee. The consent decree was fully honored, and the case was dismissed in 2006.

The Cela case cites the Geier Concent Decree, arguing that plaintiffs in the Cela case are entitled to relief as third-party beneficiaries.

George Barrett, an attorney whose firm served as lead counsel for the original plaintiff in the Geier case, said Wednesday that the Cela case is “interesting.”

“I think it’s an interesting lawsuit and raises some interesting questions. I think they are very competent lawyers representing the plaintiffs,” Barrett said.

By: eastnashville37207 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I have known of many (white) in Nashville that have been discriminated in Nashville. Many who needed assistant because of hardships that where always refuse with some bogus excuse.Most government agencies are famous for discriminating against white people.Here's another perfect example MDHA. Try and get housing if you're a white person. Met Pat Clark from MDHA and she is one of the most racist people I have ever met.Pleased this lawsuit is going forward, that some one is finally doing what should have been done a long time ago.

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 6:00

At what point do they just shut down that joke of a school? It's a constant point of contention, trouble and lawsuits. Besides that the degree is worth about as much as a napkin from Shoney's.

By: abrahamlincoln on 12/31/69 at 6:00

how irionic! white people now claiming discrimination, yet! for years whites always said there is no discrimination, just pick yourself up by your boot straps, and work hard and don`t expect other people to give you anything.

By: RealityRosie on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Racism rampant in Nashville at one time startled me. No more. This is a city divided against itself with prejudice and counter prejudice and xenophobia tearing at any real progress in the development of unity. As a white person who grew up in a predominantly black world, I came to Nashville with high expectations of diversity and tolerance. I have been disappointed on both counts. The legal immigrants here have shocking stories of the racism they face daily. When I worked in a predominantly black workplace here, I experienced that retro prejudice which insulted and hurt even though I had friendships with a diverse group of people. This lawsuit should go forward. Best of luck to Ms. Cela.

By: Cass on 12/31/69 at 6:00

These are really desperate times when white people sue a state owned institution to claim they were discriminated against by black people. All I see is green in this situation.AND Big PapaYou are an incredibly ill-informed miscreant, and your post is laughable. I won't waste my time detailing how terribly wrong you are, but you definitely are very wrong.

By: backstroke2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I am curious as to how many of Ms. Cela's critics, about free education, know if she was educated for free? She may be up to her eyeballs in debt and if you are eligible for a grant because you EARNED it...then you should get it. Academic success is rewarded with grants and matter color or national origin... If you were a green martian you would still deserve it.

By: BlackWidow on 12/31/69 at 6:00

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Blacks are always whining and screaming about discrimination and prejudice. But let a white person express those same feelings, and it's "Katy Bar the Door".ANDCass: This is not about money - it's about principle.

By: skeets on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This response is to eastnashville37207. You shouldn't make comments about people who your really don't know. I have had the honor of working with Mrs Pat Clark for over 12years, and this is a woman who cares about the welfare of people. MDHA helps all of it nashville community regardless of there race, creed or color. If you would do your research first, before you make a comment, you will find out that your statement about Pat Clark is absolutely false! So next time, please address the issue of The TSU lawsuit, and not a person who has nothing to do with it. Skeets

By: localboy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

BigPapa forgets two things - the person who earns the degree establishes the value, and that until recently extra napkins at Shoney's were as rare and valuable as any gem you could name.

By: chosenrfew on 12/31/69 at 6:00

A side note: Nashville is a great place to live having been born and raised here I can attest to that, but it’s even greater if you’re white. Many look at our city as a hickville filled with a bunch of country music loving white people. That’s unfortunate. Nashville is rich in black history and culture. It’s so unfortunate that the city of Nashville is not inclusive when it comes to its representation to the world as well as visitors and natives of Nashville. Now, to the topic…TSU is still known as an HBCU to many although it has welcomed white students to the university to attend without costs in order to receive more government funding. It’s known in the black community that TSU is not the most organized university so for those that attend TSU for a free ride need to chalk up your unfortunate experiences. Many black students have experienced the same things for decades but didn’t holler foul. They should have but that’s expected from TSU. Their rep is not the best when it comes to monies, records, etc… TSU is an organization that has a lot of cleaning up it needs to do in the administration and faculty. To blackwidow…as long as there are white people that can’t vote for someone because they’re black, black people will continue to “whine” as you put it. Check out any organization that’s not black-owned and tell me how many black people are a part of the executive team. Please watch the HBO documentary “Right America, Feeling Wronged: Some Voices From the Campaign Trail” by Alexandra Pelosi. Don’t be so naïve and ignorant blackwidow and eastnashville37207.

By: McCormickFan on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Cass: Do you not think it is possible for white people to be discriminated against? Should they just not say anything about it because some of their grandparents discriminated against black people years before they were born? When will this ever end? And agree totally with Big Papa. As a Nashville area employer you would be better equipped with the Shoney's napkin when applying for employment at my business. I have hired TSU grads that could not write a coherent sentence!

By: Blanketnazi2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I work with several TSU grads who are very bright and good at what they do.

By: PromosFriend on 12/31/69 at 6:00

".....Nashville is a great place to live having been born and raised here I can attest to that, but it’s even greater if you’re white. Many look at our city as a hickville filled with a bunch of country music loving white people. ......."While this is an opinion that some may have, how does that differ from, for instance, a Washington D.C. or Detroit where you can turn the above statement around to say something like, "Many look at our city as a ghetto filled with a bunch of gangsta rap music loving black people." In this day and time the old expectations of race and privilege are becoming arcane. Let it go and get on with continuing to improve all of our lives.

By: localboy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

McCormickFan: I have hired TSU grads that could not write a coherent sentence! and in your firm whose fault is it for the hire of unqualified employees? Did these grads perform the function for which they were originally hired, yet failed when switched to some other job? How many times does that happen in a company, regardless of the applicant/employee's college of origin?

By: Blanketnazi2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

i've worked with/for some Vandy graduates some of whom were incompetent as hell. that doesn't mean Vandy is not a good school.

By: McCormickFan on 12/31/69 at 6:00

local boy - send your kids to TSU and I'll send mine to Shoney's. I think any kind of discrimination is the last thing on thier minds. They would not be involved in all this hate if they were not taught by us adults who were taught by adults...

By: dude217 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

ome of you people here crack me up. Can anyone answer me why is it that when a cartoonist draws a cartoon of a monkey in the New York Post, Al Sharpton come out crying bloody racist murder they're defacing our president and all black people, but when a white girl sues her school for racial discrimination its all about the green? So what are the facts here? Is TSU a racist organization? You bet you a... it is. Go ask any of the white students that have graduated from there in the past few years what they think. While you at it go ask some of the black students and faculty members how they feel about the white students on campus. You might be surprised at what you'll find out. It seems to me that in this racist America of ours racism is only valid if its against African-Americans. Anything against anyone else is ok because their grandparents were not made into slaves and abused, right! So how am I supposed to be more understanding of this problem that has plagued our society for years, if the group that's in the center of the spotlight discriminates against others when they have the power to do so? Also, does anyone think that if the colors were flipped in this case we'd be seeing Al Sharpton in Nashville today??? Additionally from looking at this article I'm assuming that the plaintiff is a grad of Speech and Audiology. If you do some research you'll realize that anyone in that field is in high demand at all times, flailing economy or not, so I hardly doubt that this case is about money, although I hope she gets a nice chunk of money for what she prolly been through this far. Whatever the case is kudos to Angela Cela for standing up for her rights and exposing these racist professors and administrators to the rest of the world. Their scam is about to be exposed and I have a feeling a lot of heads will roll from this, rightfully so.I find this excerpt from the article very interesting."This is not a white-versus-black lawsuit,” Hardin said. “The proof will show that some very courageous African-Americans stood shoulder to shoulder with the white students and said, ‘This is wrong.’”

By: MsCatalina on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Come on people! Are you seriously that nieve? You really shouldn't be that judgmental of Ms. Cela. Had you read the case you would see that Ms. Cela's grandparent's were not American's that enslaved blacks years ago. Her ancestors are from Guam, a tiny island in the middle of the ocean whose population is made up primarily Phillipino's after the WW. Do your homework before you start slinging mud! What makes Ms. Cela's case so different from any other black person's filing the same? It's about time reverse racism is brought to the surface and the black's tired claim of oppression is laid to rest. weren't theones in shackles...get over it already! We know what happened, we don't need a reminder....get over it. Ms. Cela is in her own right a slave, a slave to the discriminatory actions of a prejudicial university that reaps the rewards of federally funded grants. The only difference here is that Ms. Cela is not a member of a chain gang picking cotton out in some field with a Mrs. Butterworth's hankershief cap! Welcome to the beauty of Equal Rights that the blacks fought for...hate to break it to you buddy....but it works both ways! Kudos to Ms. Cela for standing up for herself and taking on the big dawgs. She should be applauded for her efforts and all Non-Black students should stand behind her!!! We've all felt it at one point in time or the other. The black's had their's over. Move on, there's a new sheriff in town! As a side note, for those that keep posting about how Obama is black so that changes everything...come on...he's half white and don't forget that he is not African American...Power & Strength to Ms. Cela!

By: WickedTribe on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The problem is that TSU is the only public university in Nashville. It's ridiculous that a city this size only has one public u and it's in the condition that TSU is in.MTSU doesn't count since Murfreesboro is way too far away.

By: SirKnight on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Wicked: Murfreesboro is too far away from Nashville?? It's just the next county over and only 20 minutes from Antioch!I experienced racism as a young white male at TSU's downtown campus numerous times when I took courses there to complete my undergraduate degree in Memphis 25 years ago. But it never occurred to me to file a lawsuit at the time! I'm glad to read Ms. Cela is pursuing this action. It's LONG overdue.

By: Houston on 12/31/69 at 6:00

MTSU and TSU should have been merged as part of the Geier settlement. The combined university should have been called TSU; the administration should have come primarily from MTSU. Everyone would have won: a fully integrated university, under (relatively) competent administrators, and the proud name of a great HBCU would have lived on.

By: NewYorker1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

OMG! I am absolutely gorgeous this morning. Shoes - Fendi, Pants and shirt - Armani, Belt - Bergdorf Goodman's.

By: slacker on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Houston, as you may already know, U.T. Nashville merged with TSU. This doesn't appear to have solved many problems.I believe MTSU, is better off left as is.

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Tennessee State is a black school. Some blacks want to go to white schools and some blacks want to have their own school. I can certainly see why there would be discrimination against a white student. I can see why a white student would want to go to TSU. curriculum appears to be easier and certainly a lot less money. If you are a white student who likes the black atmosphere and culture TSU is an ideal place.