On June 10, 2021, Rowan University (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $20,000 to an art professor and former art department chair who claimed that she was discriminated and retaliated against on the basis of her sex. As part of its settlement, the University also agreed to remove certain letters “regarding alleged workplace bullying and harassment associated penalties” from her file and restored her rights to sabbatical leave and work load adjustments.
In her suit, Susan Bowman, who began her career with Rowan in 2002, claimed that the discrimination against her started when she, as a member of the Department of Art Tenure and Recontracting Committee (ADTRC), supported renewing Dr. Tingting Wang’s contract while the other two ADTRC members, Dr. Jane Graziano and Dr. Andrew Hottle recommended against renewing Wang’s contract. A superior Rowan board, the University Senate Tenure and Recontracting Committee, agreed with Bowman and approved Wang’s application.
in mid-February 2016, about a month after Wang’s application was approved, Bowman alleged that University Provost James Newell called a faculty meeting at which he announced that four faculty members had placed a “vote of no confidence” in Bowman. Those faculty members, later confirmed to be Drs. Fred Adelson, Herbert Appleson, Skeffington Thomas, and Nancy Ohanian, also filed an “internal Charge of Workplace Violence and Bullying” against Bowman, according to the lawsuit. Bowman claimed that this complaint was one of repeated instances of harassment, intimidation and hostility against her by the four above-named faculty members and Dr. Daniel Chard.
About a month later, Wang reportedly filed a complaint with Rowan’s Office of Equity and Diversity and Office of Compliance & Corporate Integrity against Bowman and the other ADTRC members claiming that they discriminated against her “on the basis of her race, national origin and nationality.” According to the lawsuit, Wang’s complaint also accused Bowman of tampering with student evaluations.
According to Bowman’s lawsuit, the complaint resulted Compliance Officer Patrick Guilfoyle interviewing her for four hours “in a hostile, accusatory fashion.” She alleged that “it was clear that the goal was to find Bowman guilty, rather than conduct an impartial investigation.” Bowman claimed that she was not given an opportunity to provide any evidence in her favor.
Bowman said that she received a July 21, 2016 letter from Carl Oxholm III, Rowan’s Executive Vice President, informing her that she was found to have violated New Jersey’s Anti-Discrimination Policy. Bowman’s lawsuit implied that this finding was confusing because she was the only member of the ADTRC that supported Wang’s application. Oxholm’s letter also removed Bowman from her Department of Art Chair position, made her ineligible for sabbatical leave for seven years, prohibited her from serving on on the ADTRC for five years and prohibited her from being appointed the chair of any department, college or committee for five years.
Bowman noted that only she and Graziano, both women, were found to have engaged in racial discrimination against Wang while Hottle, a male, was found not guilty of the charge. According to her lawsuit, the fact that Hottle was cleared “raise[d] serious questions over the integrity of the investigation” and provided evidence that Rowan “clearly engaged in gender discrimination.” On August 1, 2016, Bowman received another punitive letter from Dr. Johanna Valez-Yelin, Assistant Vice President Equity and Diversity, sanctioning her for violating the Workplace Violence and Bullying Policy.
In response to her internal appeals, Provost Newell provided a “cumulative corrected summary for both cases” on August 25, 2016 and issued the following, final sanctions against her: (1) removal from her position as Chair of the Department of Art; (2) prohibited her from participating in committees at any level for five years; (3) made her ineligible to apply for Adjusted Work Load for five years; (4) prohibited her from participating in the review of the credentials of Wang for any purpose; (5) rescinded her already-approved sabbatical without an opportunity to re-apply for seven years.
Wang filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint against Bowman in November 2016 but this one was found to be “unsubstantiated” according to the lawsuit.
Following the sanctions, Bowman was reportedly moved from the Department of Art to the Department of Public Relations and Advertising where Bowman “was left teaching new courses in an area where she lacked expertise.” She said that she was, for the first time in fifteen years, denied a request to schedule her own courses.
The suit alleges Bowman was “publicly embarrassed and humiliated in front of the entire department, and suffered severe emotional distress over the way in which the situation was handled.”
Of the $20,000 settlement, Bowman received $1,632.64 for economic damages and $14,693.82 for emotional distress, pain and suffering. The remaining $3,673.54 went to her lawyer. Four accusatory letters were removed from her file and sabbatical leave and work load adjustment rights appear to have been restored. As part of the settlement, Bowman agreed that while she serves on any committee or body, she will recuse herself from voting on any matter that would directly affect Adelson, Appleson, Thomas or Ohanian. Rowan similar agreed to prohibit those four faculty members from taking a position on any matters that would directly affect Bowman.
The lawsuit, filed in 2018, was covered in an April 2, 2018 article by Jim Walsh of the Courier Post, “Rowan professor sues over discrimination ruling.” The article noted that Bowman’s lawsuits provides no details about the two complaints filed against her and that those complaints are “considered confidential records by Rowan.”
The case is captioned Bowman v. Rowan University, Federal Case No. 1:18-cv-0423 and Bowman’s attorney was Mark E. Belland of Cherry Hill. The complaint and settlement agreement are on-line here.
None of Bowman’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Rowan or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Rowan or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bowman $20,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.