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DEI staffer alleges U. Wisconsin discriminated against her for being white: lawsuit

‘Great educators’ being ‘passed over’ because of skin color, former DEI administrator says

University of Wisconsin leaders are accused of discriminating against a white DEI staffer in a new lawsuit as leading state lawmakers call for greater scrutiny of diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Rochelle Hoffman, a former assistant director of the Multicultural Student Services at the UW-Eau Claire campus, alleged administrators discriminated against her because she is white and later retaliated against her when she complained about harassment, according to the lawsuit, filed Dec. 14.

Hoffman, in a May email to Wisconsin Sen. Patrick Testin, said the public university has become a “hostile environment,” and there are “blatant actions of racial discrimination against white folks” like herself.

“On a regular basis there are great educators that are told they shouldn’t occupy multicultural space, to check their white privilege, passed over for jobs for an outside candidate of color, and reminded they are ‘inherently racist’ because they are white,” she wrote.

Michael Knuth, director of communications for UW-Eau Claire, told The College Fix via email the university “will not offer a statement or comment on the lawsuit in question” because of the pending litigation.

“UW-Eau Claire does not discriminate based on race in any employment decisions,” Knuth told The Fix.

Allegations like Hoffman’s and other concerns about DEI efforts are prompting action from state lawmakers.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel late last month that university DEI programs are “cancerous.” He said people should be chosen for roles “based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”

The assemblyman’s office did not respond to several requests for comment from The Fix last week about university DEI programs and Hoffman’s case.

Vos told the Sentinel he wants the government to conduct a comprehensive audit of diversity programs in state agencies and eventually “eliminate the DEI process” in university hiring.

MORE: University of Wisconsin regents cut DEI in exchange for $800 million

Hoffman alleges her employment experience “dragged out over 10 months and irrevocably damaged [her] career.”

It began after her January 2022 appointment as interim director of the Office of Multicultural Student Services and later in her role as assistant director, according to the complaint.

Hoffman’s track record was impeccable, and she received reviews of “exceeding expectations” and “outstanding” during her six previous years working at the university, it stated. However, some students and staff complained.

During an Open House forum in February 2022, several students made negative comments about Hoffman’s race, including, “Do you personally feel white staff can do as effective a job as a person of color, within a space for people of color?” and “We don’t want white people in the MSS office,” according to the lawsuit.

Students argued that “for a student to be well served, they needed to be assigned a coordinator of the same ethnic background,” the lawsuit states.

Concurrently, the Student Senate passed a resolution condemning Hoffman’s appointment, noting “concerns over placing white identifying individuals in positions of interim leadership for major EDI offices,” the complaint states.

Hoffman said other employees made her job difficult, and an anonymous complaint was filed with the Office of Affirmative Action in June 2022 claiming her “presence made the complainant feel uncomfortable,” according to the lawsuit.

On July 12, administrators who met with Hoffman admitted the work environment was “hostile” for her, but, instead of working to fix the problem, told her “she had to move” to another office, the lawsuit alleges.

Eventually, Hoffman said she could not deal with the hostility anymore and felt forced to resign from her position as assistant director, according to the lawsuit.

“The University completely ignored federal law prohibiting race and/or color from being a factor in employment decisions affecting an individual’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,” the complaint alleges.

In December, lawmakers negotiated a deal with the University of Wisconsin system that includes $800 million for infrastructure improvements and pay raises in exchange for voting to cut large chunks of DEI programming, The Fix reported in December.

Mandatory DEI statements in admissions and hiring are being abolished under the deal, and a new conservative professorship at UW-Madison is being created, according to the terms of the agreement.

MORE: Texas A&M faces lawsuit alleging discrimination against white, Asian males

IMAGE: University of Wisconsin Eau Claire/Facebook

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About the Author
Rachel Culver -- The Master's University