Former employee accuses Collin College of racial discrimination in fourth recent lawsuit against the school
Swee Lian Wee claims she was denied a promotion based on race and that school leaders created a hostile work environment.
Another former employee has sued Collin College, alleging multiple college leaders discriminated against her based on her race and gender, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her.
The lawsuit, filed by Swee Lian “Linda” Wee on July 13, is the fourth brought against the community college over the past year.
Wee, who worked as the school’s director of continuing education starting in 2016 after serving as a professor for four years, applied in 2019 for a newly created position called executive dean of continuing education.
In the lawsuit, Wee alleges that Provost Bill King, her direct supervisor, rejected her application, telling her the college sought to hire someone “who would be able to present themselves to C-suite executives” and who had a doctorate.
The college then hired Karen Musa, a white woman from the United Kingdom who doesn’t have a doctorate, according to the lawsuit, which said Musa told several staff members “that she was asked to ‘assume’ the Executive Dean position.”
The lawsuit says King later sent Wee a list of reasons why he hired Musa for the job, including that Musa “was born near London, England.”
“The only difference between Ms. Wee and Ms. Musa is that Ms. Musa is White of British origin, and Ms. Wee is Asian of Chinese descent, born in Singapore,” the lawsuit says.
Musa became Wee’s supervisor. Wee alleges in the lawsuit that Musa immediately started “attacking her,” took away all of Wee’s direct reports, scheduled staff meetings that excluded Wee and denied her budget requests.
The suit also names Musa, King, the board of trustees, President Neil Matkin and Floyd Nickerson, chief human resources officer.
Collin College spokesperson Marisela Cadena-Smith said in a written statement that the school “looks forward to defending the claims in court and is exploring its legal options, including counterclaims, which may be available after further review and assessment.”
In February 2020, the lawsuit says, Wee took family and medical leave to take care of her husband, who was having surgery. The day of her husband’s surgery, Musa emailed Wee and told her she had to work while on leave, the lawsuit claims.
When Wee tried to resolve the issue through the provost, King dismissed her concerns and told Wee that she “would have to deal with difficult bosses,” the lawsuit states. In July 2020, Wee turned to human resources and requested a transfer to a different department.
The college denied her request. After being ordered to work during her leave of absence and receiving her first negative performance review since she was hired at the college, Wee filed a complaint to human resources against King and Musa in February 2021, alleging that they engaged in and allowed discriminatory practices, harassment, targeting and bullying.
In May 2021, a college Resolution Review Panel, which is part of the college’s grievance process, rejected Wee’s complaints. The lawsuit says it was a “sham” hearing because at least one member had direct reporting lines to King and Musa.
“After the College provided her no protections in the workplace; denied an equal opportunity to progress within the College; repeatedly ignored and harassed after making complaints; and continuously subjected to unlawful and offensive behavior which no reasonable person should be expected to endure … on or around August 27, 2021, Ms. Wee was forced to resign, effective September 1 of 2021,” the lawsuit says.
Wee is seeking between $250,000 and $1 million in damages.
Three professors previously filed lawsuits against the college and Matkin, its president.
In March, former history professor Michael Phillips sued the school, alleging retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech. Phillips’ lawsuit, filed in federal court, says he was fired because he spoke publicly about politically contentious issues like the school’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the removal of Confederate statues in Dallas.
Former history professor Lora Burnett sued the school last year, alleging that she was fired for public statements she made about former Vice President Mike Pence. According to Burnett, the college decided not to renew her contract due to “insubordination, making private personnel issues public that impair the college’s operations, and personal criticisms of co-workers, supervisors, and/or those who merely disagree with you.” Burnett said the college did not provide specific examples of how she had violated the college’s personnel policies.
She settled with the school, accepting an offer of $70,000 plus attorney’s fees, though the school did not admit liability.
Another professor, Suzanne Jones, who taught education, sued the college last fall, alleging she was fired for publicly criticizing the school’s handling of the pandemic and for her work to start a local campus chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a statewide higher education faculty union that lacks bargaining rights. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression is representing Phillips and Jones in their cases against the school, which are both ongoing.
Disclosure: Collin College has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/26/collin-college-lawsuit-racial-discrimination/. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy.