Professor Valeria Herrera is suing Syracuse University, SoA, and dean Michael Speaks for discrimination

A petition began circulating recently penned by Syracuse University (SU) School of Architecture students and alumni to support Valeria Herrera, a full-time assistant teaching professor. The letter of support is in response to Syracuse University’s decision to not renew Herrera’s teaching contract and an ongoing lawsuit she filed against the institution in February. In lieu of Herrera’s recent termination, the letter described her as a “role-model that we cannot afford to lose.”

Valeria Herrera (the plaintiff) is currently suing Syracuse University; the Syracuse University School of Architecture (SoA); and Michael Speaks, SoA dean; in New York Northern District Court for damages. On February 20, Herrera filed a suit that alleged she faces racial discrimination and a hostile work environment.

The plaintiff, a Latina woman, claimed that she’s been passed over for opportunities since beginning her teaching career at SU in 2018. She’s been denied tenure-track positions, program director positions, research grants, awards, and a participatory role in SoA’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access Council, the lawsuit alleged. 

“This is a lawsuit to vindicate Plaintiff Valeria Herrera’s constitutional rights and to obtain compensation for the violation of her rights under federal and state law,” the lawsuit said, “and for the economic, reputational, emotional, and mental harm caused to her by Defendants Syracuse University and the Syracuse University School of Architecture.”

Herrera’s lawsuit lists discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 14th Amendment, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), and the Family Medical Leave Act. “Defendants were aggressive and threatening,” the lawsuit said.

In the suit, Herrera recalled multiple episodes where she was passed over for teaching jobs by white professors with less experience. “The school uses [Herrera] as a prop,” the lawsuit argued, “as a lure for recruitment, for mentoring of graduate students, and for producing the image of diversity representation in their efforts to appear as if they are committed to diversity, equity, access, and equality while simultaneously working to prevent [Herrera] from opportunity, access, and equal treatment.” 

Herrera told AN that she can’t comment on the lawsuit at this time. SU officials didn’t reply to a request for comment.

AN will continue to monitor this story.

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