November 20, 2003

Columbia Sued for Discrimination

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Randy Raghavendra, a senior management analyst at Columbia University’s Office of Institutional Real Estate, filed a class-action lawsuit in July alleging racial discrimination in the second such lawsuit the university has faced in less than nine months. Raghavendra said that he hopes his case helps to publicize “the blatant racial discrimination I and other racial minorities may have suffered or continue to suffer at Columbia University.”

Raghavendra sent an e-mail to all Ivy League student newspapers on Nov. 12, after an article about the case was published in the Columbia Spectator. The e-mail included a press release and an additional statement to the press outlining the details of his alleged victimization and the pending lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in the New York State Supreme Court, was against William Scott, the deputy vice president of IRE, Karen Fry, the assistant vice president of IRE and the Board of Trustees of Columbia University. In the press release, Raghavendra alleged that they “[practice] blatant racial discrimination and [use] various deceptive tactics to keep out blacks and other dark-skinned minorities from higher-paying managerial and executive positions of power.” Raghavendra, who describes himself as a dark-skinned Indian American, filed the lawsuit after he was turned down for a promotion for what he claimed to be racially motivated reasons.

After working at IRE for a year, Raghavendra applied for a one-level promotion to the position of manager of finance/accounting in Sept. 2002. He claimed that by the time he was interviewed, the position had been filled by a younger white woman, Jennifer Fabrizio. He called his interview with Fry “a joke” and “a fake interview” because he believed that Fabrizio was already hired. Raghavendra, who has nearly 20 years of professional experience and two master’s degrees, said Fabrizio has a third of his qualifications. She was hired through an outside search firm, a common practice in IRE. After six months, Fabrizio left the position.

Raghavendra said in a telephone interview that he felt “they go out of their way to prevent you from getting any higher rank” if you are a “dark-skinned minority.” He said there are no African-Americans in a position higher than his in the IRE, and the one Pakistani who holds a higher title “is not really that dark-skinned.”

In his letter to the press, Raghavendra wrote that there are numerous other indications of Scott’s discomfort around people with dark skin. Raghavendra claimed that when he first met Scott, the white man made sarcastic race-related comments about affirmative action. On another occasion, the press release said, “Mr. Scott asked him, ‘Do you often get hassled at the airport security?’ suggesting