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Former employee claims UW mistreated him for being white, male and Christian

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UW campus

Students and faculty walk in and out of the Wyoming Union on the University of Wyoming campus Oct. 2, 2019, in Laramie.

A former University of Wyoming employee is suing the school and several top employees for allegedly discriminating against him based on his identity as a white, heterosexual, Christian man and for his opposition to critical race theory.

Plaintiff Jeffrey Lynn Wilkins, who worked for the school as an intern and part-time employee from 2015 to 2021, filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court. He’s asking for more than $874,000 in compensation.

Balloun Law Professional Corporation attorney O. Shane Balloun, who is representing Wilkins, declined to comment on the case until he had consulted with his client. UW spokesperson Chad Baldwin said he couldn’t disclose at this point who will represent the defendants or any other details about the case.

“We don’t believe that the claim has merit and we’re going to vigorously defend against it,” Baldwin said.

Wilkins, who currently lives in South Dakota, started working for UW in 2015 as an intern while getting his law degree at the school, according to the complaint. He graduated in 2017, after which the university hired him as a part-time employee with the Research Products Center until 2021.

The complaint says he had “routinely requested” the opportunity to become a full-time benefited employee with the Research Products Center. But, according to the complaint, UW instead “reduced his hours, denied him the opportunity to apply for various promotions, and eventually terminated him” despite his “skill, enjoyment, performance in, and repeated expressions to elevate the station of his employment…”

Wilkins’ supervisor, the complaint says, praised his work and told him she would advocate for his promotion, but that he would need to find a way to “fit into a non-straight-white-male-Christian category…” in order to move up at the university. She suggested he “lean on his degenerative eye condition as a disability” to help him get promoted. The supervisor didn’t endorse this “internal discrimination,” according to the complaint, but “unequivocally confirmed its existence.”

According to the lawsuit, the supervisor was later promoted, and the center eliminated her former position rather than having Wilkins take the role, despite him being “more than qualified” for the job. The complaint also alleges that Wilkins’ colleague and a defendant in the lawsuit, H. Victoria Bryant, was promoted to be the interim director of the Research Products Center without going through a competitive hiring process, and that she “has repeatedly shown animosity toward him” in the form of ignoring emails, excluding him from meetings and cutting his hours. UW fired Wilkins “with no explanation” the day after Bryant became full director of the center, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint also alleges that Wilkins was terminated in part because of his opposition to critical race theory, an academic framework for examining racism in U.S. society and institutions. UW’s chief diversity officer required him to take diversity training in 2019 as a condition of employment, according to the complaint. That training, it alleges, was “steeped in critical race theory.” Wilkins “found the training to be blatantly racist, sexist, and bigoted” and expressed this in feedback, which became part of his permanent employment record, the lawsuit states. After this, the complaint says that he “was never given meaningful opportunity for advancement or promotion.”

Wilkins filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Wyoming’s Department of Workforce Services in July 2021 for discrimination based on race, sex and religion and retaliation, the complaint says. UW terminated him while that investigation was ongoing. He then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for retaliation in November of the same year. The commission issued Wilkins a notice of right to sue for both of those complaints in June 2022.

The lawsuit claims that defendants violated Titles VI, VII and IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Wyoming state statute prohibiting discriminatory and unfair employment practices and the university’s regulations barring discrimination and retaliation. It also alleges that defendants deprived Wilkins of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Defendants in the lawsuit are the University of Wyoming, UW President Ed Seidel; UW Interim Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Kim Chestnut; UW Vice President for Research and Economic Development Parag Chitnis and UW Technology Transfer; and Research Products Center Director Bryant.

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