A former Millersville University dean is pursuing a civil rights lawsuit against the school, alleging discrimination and unfair treatment because of her race, age and gender.
Charity Welch, 67, of Willow Street, filed suit on Oct. 6 saying the discriminatory treatment occurred while she was assistant dean in the College of Graduate Studies and Adult Learning from July 2016 to November 2019.
Welch’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, states she experienced “severe” harassment from her superiors, including leaving her out of important meetings, denying opportunities for advancement and interfering with an attempt to hire a Black student to assist her.
The lawsuit comes a year after the university settled another federal racial discrimination lawsuit for $170,000. Candice Baldwin, Millersville’s former assistant vice president for student success and retention, alleged the university fired her nine months into her employment because she is Black. In settling the lawsuit, the university maintained no admission of liability.
Millersville University spokeswoman Janet Kacskos said in an email that the university is aware of Welch’s lawsuit and takes these matters “quite seriously.”
Welch’s complaint outlines several ways she claims the university impeded her ability to do her job.
Beginning in June 2017, Welch started to receive frequent, “severe” harassment, the complaint states. Victor DeSantis, as dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Adult Learning through August 2018, supervised Welch.
DeSantis “publicly berated” Welch, who is Black, in front of “a dozen employees, including multiple subordinates,” the complaint states. Meanwhile, DeSantis “spoke respectfully” to Welch’s younger, white colleagues, according to the complaint.
DeSantis repeatedly left Welch out of meetings, withheld important information related to her job and attempted to interfere with Welch’s hiring of a Black student assistant, the complaint states.
In August 2018, the university promoted DeSantis to be the president’s chief of staff, leaving Welch, who was next in line, to assume she would take DeSantis’ place. However, the complaint states, the university appointed James Delle, who is white and younger than Welch, as interim dean. Delle, the complaint states, worked at the university for two months and did not work within the College of Graduate Studies and Adult Learning prior to his appointment. The university later officially hired Delle as DeSantis’ successor – and Welch’s supervisor – a year later, according to the complaint.
DeSantis is now executive director for the Office of Community Engagement, Government & Economic Development at the university.
The unfair treatment continued after DeSantis’ promotion, the complaint states, as both DeSantis and university Provost Vilas Prabhu “took steps to ensure (Welch) was not included in important meetings and projects.” The lawsuit, however, does not list specific situations.
DeSantis did not return a phone call or email requesting an interview. Prabhu did not respond to an email for a request for comment.
In November 2019, the complaint states, Welch was “constructively discharged,” a term pulled from Pennsylvania law to describe when a reasonable employee resigns as a result of the employer creating a hostile work environment.
Millersville’s Kacskos said the university’s “EPPIIC values” – exploration, professionalism, public mission, inclusion, integrity and compassion – “fuel every aspect of our operations, including our hiring and career-advancement practices.”
She added: “Moreover, we are deeply committed to creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable campus community and, as an equal opportunity institution, we do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity or age.”
Welch, contacted through LinkedIn, forwarded questions to her attorney, Eva Zelson, with Zeff Law Firm, which has offices in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
Zelson, when reached by phone, declined to answer specific questions, including where Welch works now, but said, “We look forward to fighting for justice on behalf of Dr. Welch.”
Welch’s complaint requests relief, including “damages for past and future monetary losses as a result of (the university’s) unlawful discrimination,” ordering the university to remove “negative, discriminatory, and/or defamatory” documents from Welch’s employment record, and a permanent injunction preventing Millersville and its employees from “engaging in, ratifying, or refusing to correct” discriminatory employment practices.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Welch has been an adjunct faculty member at Concordia University since September 2014. Prior to working at Millersville, she held various leadership positions at Endicott College, Suffolk County Community College, Coppin State University and the University of Oregon. She’s held several other education and research positions around the country.
Welch has a master’s in education and special education from Coppin State University and a doctorate from the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia, in addition to a business management certificate from Goucher College and executive leadership from Hampton University, her profile shows.