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Judge denies case dismissal in prof's lawsuit against BU

Nov. 10, 1998


Editor in chief

A U.S. district judge has denied Baylor's motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed against the university earlier this year by tenured journalism professor Dr. Michael Bishop.

Summary judgment would have dismissed the case between Baylor and Bishop, former chairman of the journalism department, before it went to trial. A summary judgment is made when the plaintiff fails to demonstrate that a case can win. After Judge Walter Smith Jr.'s decision last week, the case will continue, with both sides preparing to proceed to trial.

Bishop, who was demoted from his chairman position in 1996 and from a vice presidential post in 1995, filed a lawsuit this year making two allegations: first, that Baylor officials committed age discrimination when removing him from his vice presidential position, and second, that the demotions were a retaliation for his reporting discriminatory practices within the university and his department.

Baylor's attorneys asked that the case be dismissed, saying it was too late to file when Bishop sued almost two years after his final demotion. But Bishop's attorney, LaNelle McNamara, argued that the delay that pushed the lawsuit past the normal 90-day deadline was not Bishop's fault.

Last week the judge decided the delay was beyond Bishop's control, McNamara said Monday.

Bishop originally filed his complaint in April 1996, McNamara said, but the complaint was slowed down by processing problems with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

'I feel confident that, certainly, we did everything we could to cooperate with EEOC and get them to process this case in a systematic, competent manner,' McNamara said. 'Everything that could go wrong, did for them.'

Lost records and mistakes in processing delayed the filing more than a year and a half, she said, and Bishop was not granted the right to sue Baylor until January 1998.

McNamara said the judge's decision gives her side the chance to 'be better equipped to prove the legitimacy of Dr. Bishop's claims.'

'We are now going to have discussions and take depositions and get more information,' McNamara said.

Instead of stopping further action, the denial of summary judgment allows Bishop's case to be investigated further, she said.

Baylor's attorneys see the denial of summary judgment as inconsequential. Noley Bice Jr., Baylor's lead attorney, said the judge's denial 'does not say there's any merit to the claim at all.'

'It's really a meaningless deal,' he said. 'It does not lend legitimacy to the claims. [The decision] was...about the conduct of a governmental agency.'

Bice said the decision does 'absolutely nothing' to strengthen Bishop's case--the judge's decision was not a vote of confidence for the professor's claims, but a judgment about how long the complaint took to process.

'[It] doesn't mean that his case is any better, factually, than before,' Bice said.

Bishop's lawsuit against the university has traveled a winding road. In fact, earlier this year the judge offered to recuse himself from the case, which would have meant yet another delay in the process.

Smith, the judge, offered to recuse himself because Bishop's daughter worked in his office as an unpaid summer intern in 1995. Because of Smith's personal connection, he sent letters to Baylor and to Bishop pointing out the potential problem and offering to recuse himself.

McNamara said she expressed support for recusal, wanting to avoid 'the appearance of impropriety' or any suggestion of unfairness.

Baylor's attorneys however, saw no need for a change, Bice said.

'Baylor responded that we were totally satisfied with the judge, that there wasn't anything that we saw that would create any cause for [the judge] to recuse himself,' he said. 'We're satisfied to go on.'

Smith opted not to recuse himself and will continue as the judge in this case.

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