Saturday, 2:15 PM
By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff
A former faculty member at Tufts University is suing the college and a prominent professor for allegedly firing her in retaliation after she accused the professor of discriminating against female and minority employees and of singling her out for her sexual orientation.
Susan Lautze, a humanitarian researcher who cofounded the Feinstein International Center at Tufts in 1996, says she was fired in 2005 after she accused her supervisor, Peter Walker, of harboring bias toward women and nonwhites. Before she was fired, she complained to Tufts officials that Walker was trumping up reasons to fire her because of a bias against her as "an openly gay woman and someone who has campaigned for the protection of marginalized populations," according to the suit.
The civil suit, filed last week in Middlesex Superior Court, names Tufts and Walker, who has directed the Feinstein International Center since 2002, as defendants. Lautze, who now lives in France, is seeking $360,000 in lost wages and damages.
A Tufts spokeswoman said today that university officials had not yet received the lawsuit, but denied the allegations in a statement.
"The university did not discriminate and will defend itself against this lawsuit. We regret that Ms. Lautze has taken this approach to solving a disagreement," the statement read.
Walker could not immediately be reached for comment.
The center, part of the nationally known Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and affiliated with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, researches such countries affected by humanitarian crises as Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka.
According to the suit, Tufts officials told Lautze her position as director of the center's Livelihoods Initiatives Program was being eliminated because of a reorganization. But the suit contends that Walker fired her in retaliation after she confronted him with concerns that staff diversity had declined under his leadership because of his biased views.
The college's reasons for her termination were "plainly contrived to mask Walker's retaliatory motive," the suit states.
In a March 28, 2005, e-mail to Walker, Lautze asked that issues of "inclusiveness" be discussed at a upcoming retreat for center employees, according to the suit.
"I think a discussion of inclusiveness and exclusiveness in the day-to-day management of the center would produce enlightening insights on how power is exercised, and occasionally abused, within the [center]," Lautze wrote in the e-mail.
The next day, Walker called Lautze, who was studying at the University of Oxford as a Fulbright scholar, and demanded assurance that she would not raise controversial issues at the retreat, the suit alleges. He also allegedly told her she was "frightening and intimidating" toward the staff, which the suit claims "reflected negative stereotyping based on her sexual orientation."
The suit states that Lautze received strong performance ratings and raised more than $3 million in grants for the center to conduct studies in war zones and famine areas and research the development of new vaccines. She conducted research for the center in Afghanistan, central and eastern Africa, and Bosnia, and co-developed the nation's first master's program for disaster specialists.
Before coming to Tufts, Walker headed the Bangkok office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from 2000 to 2002 and was its director of disaster policy from 1995 to 2000.
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