Southern University grievance committee broke state law when handling grade fraud allegations, appellate court ruling affirms

Southern University grievance committee broke state law when handling grade fraud allegations, appellate court ruling affirms
An appellate court affirmed a lower court decision that Southern University’s grievance committee broke Louisiana’s open meetings law. (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - An appellate court affirmed a lower court decision that Southern University’s grievance committee broke Louisiana’s open meetings law.

District Judge Richard “Chip” Moore originally made the same ruling Monday, May 13, 2019.

The ruling means any evidence collected by the committee in March during an employee complaint hearing about grade fraud allegations was illegally obtained and cannot be used in any decisions going forward. It also means future meetings about employee complaints that the school has must be open to the public.

Southern’s employee complaint process is very involved and the grade fraud allegations against university officials have many moving parts. We’ve broken down both before.

In addition to the open meetings lawsuit, the parties suing the university are seeking copies of records they say could expose a scheme deeply rooted all the way back to Executive Vice Chancellor-President James Ammon’s office.

Southern University previously responded to Moore’s decision with the statement below:

Earlier this year, the university made several difficult decisions regarding leadership changes in the speech pathology department. As expected, those employees were unhappy with the changes and had a right to file a grievance and request a committee of faculty to review the decisions.

The University has always taken the position that an internal grievance committee appointed by the president or an administrator is not a public body under the public meetings laws. Committees of faculty and staff are frequently used to review a myriad of policy and employment decisions and they do not meet the definitions of a “public body.”

In this instance, a court has determined that a faculty grievance committee is, in fact, a public body. Although we do not agree with this interpretation, we will follow the court’s ruling and consider our options for appeal. Regardless of the ultimate determination as to whether the grievance committee is a public body, the university firmly believes that the underlying employment decisions were in the best interest of that department.

***Note: This story has been updated to reflect the district court’s decision was affirmed by an appellate court, not the Louisiana Supreme Court***

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