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Panel finds culture within SUNY Brockport administration ‘lacking in inclusion’

Roughly nine months after a SUNY Brockport employee filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, an official statement has been released.

Victoria Elsenheimer is the executive assistant to Mike Andriatch, the college’s Vice President for Advancement. In the complaint filed last February, Elsenheimer said she was discriminated against because of her race. She claims she was passed up for a promotion because of it.

Elsenheimer said three other administrative assistants, all white women, were given a title change and promotion, but she was not, even though she had more seniority. She said the decision makers in this were SUNY Brockport President Heidi MacPherson and Andriatch.

A SUNY formed tripartite panel conducted a review of the complaint and composed a 59-page report which includes records and witness statements.

Usually, President MacPherson would be the final arbiter of the complaint, but since she was named in the complaint, the chancellor, through her designee, will have the final authority over the final disposition of the complaint.

SUNY Chancellor Designee Teresa Miller released a statement on the findings Thursday.

Miller stated that though the panel couldn’t come to a consensus if there was ‘disparate treatment on the basis of race’, and that the complaint didn’t rise to the legal level of disparate treatment.

However, Miller continued the statement saying the panel found that the culture of the environment does not appear to be inclusive.

The statement reads:

“In a work setting where representational diversity among similarly situated assistants such as the Complainant and the other administrative assistants, is lacking, and in a campus climate fairly characterized as lacking in inclusion, the Complainant’s perception that she was being treated as “less than” when all the other assistants received upgraded titles and she — the lone African American assistant — did not, is credible. ”

Miller said the values of the SUNY system include diversity and inclusion at the highest level of college, and this is not happening at Brockport. She cites a ‘lack of cultural competence and sensitivity that is characteristic of a workplace lacking inclusive values and practices.’

In order to address the problematic climate within the administration, Miller said Dr. Rodmon King, Chief Diversity Officer at SUNY Oswego, will be helping out. Dr. King is on a special assignment to lend his expertise in diversity, equity, and inclusion to the college.

“[Dr. King] will conduct appropriate mediation and/or trainings with the Complainant and the other Vice Presidents’ assistants with the goal of increasing the cultural competency of the assistants, educating them on inclusive values, and creating an inclusive climate among the group members. To the extent that Dr. King must involve the Vice Presidents inculcating inclusive values, he may decide the content and scope of such engagement within his sole discretion.”

This is set to begin no later than Dec. 31.

The panel also found evidence that Elsenheimer was retaliated against after filing the complaint.

According to the statement, Andriatch was told repeatedly that he must not treat Elsenheimer any differently after she filed the complaint. Instead, the statement reads, Andriatch avoided Elsenheimer rather than interacting with her how he did prior to the complaint.

“And by treating Complainant differently,Respondent created a risk of liability on the part of the university. A shift in culture is sorely needed.”

The panel recommended that an external body should examine the culture of the Division of Advancement, including a pay review to ensure there is equity in the division related to race and gender. They also recommended mediation between Andriatch and Elsenheimer, but Miller said she isn’t sure if this would be helpful. She said this decision with be up to Dr. King.

The panel also recommended that Human Resources procedures be more specific to make title changes more transparent, and to improve the process of reviewing discrimination complaints. They said the HR processes associated with this case were “underdeveloped, inconsistent and lacked clear direction.”

The college sent out this statement in response:

The tripartite process, including all reports and recommendations, are confidential. Out of respect to the individuals involved – including the impartial individuals who were asked to sit on the tripartite panel – we will continue to honor that confidentiality.

President Macpherson fully understands that it will take a great deal of hard work, countless hours of crucial conversations, as well as time to strengthen our campus climate. As is evidenced by the work that we have undertaken in recent months, we are deeply committed to building a sustainable, anti-racist community at SUNY Brockport.”

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