Former Cal Poly professor, university reach settlement in racial discrimination case

Roslyn Caldwell, a Cal Poly faculty member, has filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming race and sex discrimination. She is pictured here for her selection as a Tribune Top 20 under 40 honoree.
Roslyn Caldwell, a Cal Poly faculty member, has filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming race and sex discrimination. She is pictured here for her selection as a Tribune Top 20 under 40 honoree.

Update, 2 p.m. Feb. 11, 2019:

The lawsuit filed by Roslyn Caldwell against Cal Poly and the CSU Board of Trustees reached a resolution Feb. 6, 2019, court records show.

In a joint statement sent to The Tribune, Caldwell’s attorney, Garry Tetalman, and Cal Poly’s legal counsel, Katherine Winder, wrote: “California Polytechnic State University and Dr. Roslyn M. Caldwell have resolved all disputes between them. All grievances, appeals and litigation have been dismissed. Neither the university nor Dr. Caldwell admitted to any wrongful conduct. The university wishes Dr. Caldwell well in her future endeavors.”

Both parties declined to provide any additional information about the settlement, but a Feb. 6, 2019, request for dismissal shows the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it can not be refiled in a separate legal action.

Original story:

A Cal Poly faculty member who directs an intervention program for at-risk youth has filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming race and gender discrimination, while alleging that Cal Poly failed to provide proper accommodations for her physical disabilities.

In response, the university’s attorney cited an employment history for the faculty member that includes allegedly plagiarizing academic work and verbally abusing some student interns.

Roslyn Caldwell, an African American psychology and child development professor, who directs the Bakari Mentoring Program for high-level juvenile offenders ranging from 14 to 17 years old, filed the lawsuit Aug. 23 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

The lawsuit alleges 11 violations committed by the university, including racial and gender discrimination, harassment based on sex and race, harassment based on physical disabilities and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

“(Caldwell) has been subjected to discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on race, ancestry, color and gender,” the lawsuit states. “(She) has been subjected to racist and racially insensitive comments by multiple faculty members, beginning in 2007 through the filing of this Complaint.”

Neither Caldwell nor her lawyers returned calls for comment on the lawsuit or the university’s statements about her disciplinary record.

Cal Poly has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit in court, and has not yet been served with the lawsuit, university legal counsel Dawn Theodora said Thursday.

However, Theodora said Thursday that Cal Poly has investigated complaints related to Caldwell’s employment on at least two occasions, including a student complaint that Caldwell engaged in “harsh, verbally abusive, and unprofessional treatment toward some of her student interns” in 2010 -11 and a complaint last spring that she allegedly used another faculty member’s work in a publication without permission or credit.

Caldwell was denied a promotion to full professor after the university investigated the plagiarism complaint. Caldwell has appealed the university’s disciplinary action related to the alleged plagiarism.

In the 2010-11 verbal abuse complaint, an internal and an independent third-party investigation found that Caldwell violated the university’s code of conduct policy, Theodora said.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” Theodora said. “Academic integrity is extremely important at Cal Poly.”

Caldwell was awarded tenure status at Cal Poly in 2011, which Theodora said was two years earlier than is typically given (after four years of service instead of six years). Theodora said Caldwell has received regular pay increases.

“Cal Poly has been invested in her success,” Theodora said.

Theodora said it was unclear to the university what Caldwell’s claims are based on because she didn’t file a complaint directly with Cal Poly or meet with the human resources director. Shortly before applying for full professor, Caldwell filed an external complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

In her lawsuit, Caldwell alleges she was subjected to ongoing racist and racially insensitive remarks by multiple faculty members beginning in 2007, when she started work at Cal Poly. Specific remarks and incidents of harassment and discrimination are not detailed in the complaint, which was submitted by her lawyers with the San Rafael-based firm Jaret & Jaret.

The lawsuit states it is not related to the status of Caldwell’s “retention, promotion, or other terms and conditions of employment” that are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Theodora said Cal Poly officials are not aware of any racially discriminatory treatment toward Caldwell from supervisors, colleagues or students. She said that in the 2010-11 investigation of the student complaint, Caldwell’s attorney stated that Caldwell didn’t feel she was subject to racial or gender bias at the university and that receiving tenure indicated she was treated equally.

The lawsuit also states Caldwell suffered injuries to her knee, leg and back on Sept. 23, 2014 and thereafter “has requested reasonable accommodations, which have been denied.”

Theodora said Cal Poly gave Caldwell special accommodations to perform her duties, including student/teacher assistants to help carry classroom supplies; specialized chairs and stools to take sitting breaks every 30 minutes; a shuttle to and from her classroom; reduced committee and departmental workloads; and parking adjacent to her classroom and office.

Caldwell fell on Jan. 26, 2015, which exacerbated her disabilities, the lawsuit states.

“Plaintiff has been harassed and retaliated against for complaining about the race, color, ancestry, and gender discrimination that she faces on campus,” the lawsuit states.

Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.