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Court dismisses white biblical scholar’s lawsuit alleging race discrimination in hiring
Harry Tolley

Judge said scholar did not ‘plausibly argue’ that hiring committee knew he was white

A federal judge has dismissed a race discrimination lawsuit by Harry Tolley, a biblical scholar, who claimed the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Georgia did not hire him because he is white, as he alleged in a lawsuit.

Tolley (pictured) and his attorney are considering an appeal, according to his Sept 2 email to The College Fix. He declined to comment further at this time.

The judge decided in the university’s favor and closed the case August 25. The judge found Tolley failed to plausibly argue the hiring committee knew of his race and, therefore, that he had been a victim of racial discrimination.

Tolley had applied for the position along with more than 100 other candidates, according to the suit. Although the university collected demographic information on candidates, it did not forward that information to the search committee, nor did it evaluate Tolley in person or on video, according to court documents.

Tolley stated that “he didn’t know whether the search committee was aware of any candidate demographic information during the initial round of the selection process,” according to court documents.

A member of the admission committee “blithely dismissed the possibility of even interviewing a white male,” Tolley told The College Fix in an email August 16.

Nancy deClaisse-Walford, a member of the search committee, referred to another candidate by saying that she “like[d] him very much… [b]ut he is a white male,” according to an email referenced in the suit.

Tolley alleged he was rejected in early stages of application process because of his race

The retirement of a black professor and pastor at Mercer created the opening for which Tolley applied in 2018 and for which he alleges he was “rejected in the early stages of consideration because he is white,” according to the suit.

The position ultimately went to Angela Parker, a black woman, ostensibly on the grounds that she was a better fit for the position given “her scholarship, research agenda, and collegiality” and because “her race was a plus as she could help connect with African-American churches and donors,” according to court documents.

The hiring committee consisted of deClaisse-Walford as well as Professors Karen Massey and Dave Garber. When queried about why the committee rejected Tolley’s application, Garber and Massey noted Tolley’s “research was very good but centered on archeology and history, raising concern that his approach would not “bridg[e] the gap between the church and academy,” according to court documents.

“[I]n my opinion, any undergrad who successfully completes a course in New Testament or Christian Origins at a university is suited to ‘bridge the gap between the church and the academy,’” Tolley told The Fix in an email.

“We were not looking for a historian,” Massey continued in a statement included in the court documents. “We were not looking for an archaeologist.”

Massey further objected to Tolley’s lack of experience at “theological schools like McAfee, whose purpose was to prepare students for the ministry.”

“I would just point out that my credentials are in biblical archaeology and Christian History,” Tolley told The Fix. “My Ph.D. work in those fields was successfully completed at the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve even been on an archaeological dig in Israel! How much more biblical can archaeology get than that?”

According to the lawsuit, the McAfee accrediting agency encouraged McAfee “to consider faculty and staff diversity when making new hires[,]” and Greg DeLoach, who appointed the employment search committee, told a colleague, “all things being equal[,] a person of color would be preferred” for the position.

Tolley alleged race discrimination prohibited by Civil Rights Act of 1964

Tolley’s suit alleged the university violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.Code § 1981, both of which guarantee equal rights and equal protection under the law, regardless of race.

The university employed a three-round hiring process. The search committee rejected Tolley in the first round, allegedly finding his credentials impressive but a poor match for the university’s objectives.

Of the three candidates who progressed to the third and final round, one was a white man, one was a white woman, and one was a black woman. Parker, the black woman, won in a majority in a secret ballot of faculty members.

Tolley told The Fix that he did not believe the fact that white candidates proceeded to the second and third rounds undercut his claim of race discrimination.

“I can’t go into too much detail for obvious reasons, but I can state that the way the Mercer/McAfee candidate ‘phases’ were handled was problematic, to say the least,” he wrote.

The job posting for the position listed “desirable qualities” for the applicant, including a “strong commitment to the church and bridging the gap between the academy and the church” and a “keen attentiveness to issues pertaining to gender, race, and cultural diversity” along with a “robust research and publication agenda” and “[o]nline teaching experience,” according to the suit.

The Fix reached out via email on August 1 to Mercer University and to the three committee members to inquire about Tolley’s lawsuit and how the race of the candidates may have impacted the search. It has not received any replies.

MORE: Judge refuses to toss lawsuit by professor who rebuffed race-based grading request

IMAGE: Harry Tolley

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Terrance Kible is a law student at the Duquesne University School of Law. He hopes to pursue a career as a litigator focusing on conservative public-interest law. Terrance is a member of his university’s Federalist Society and Criminal Law Society.