Former employees say they experienced discrimination at FAU

According to some exit interviews, former employees experienced bullying, discrimination, isolation, and a toxic work environment across different departments of the university.


Photo by Alex Liscio.

Sofia De La Espriella, Staff Writer

Acts of discrimination are still prevalent for workers at Florida Atlantic University, despite being the most diverse public university in Florida.

According to exit interviews the University Press acquired via a public records request, former employees felt bullying, discrimination, isolation and a toxic work environment that contributed to their departure. These documents allow outgoing employees to describe their time working at FAU and to give feedback on what changes can be made to improve the university.

Due to the sensitivity of these topics, the employees’ names will not be revealed to protect their identities. 

Person #1

Person #1 said she felt bullied and discriminated against because of her physical appearance. 

“While wearing my natural hair, I felt judged and made to feel as if I was not competent because of my physical appearance,” she said. “My hair did not define me as a person but most importantly what, as a woman, I bring to the table.” 

Person #1 declared she felt “alienated and micro-invalidated,” the latter being a form of microaggression that excludes the feelings, ideas or thoughts of those in minority groups. 

According to her exit interview, she says the lack of diversity and inclusion might have had to do with how she often felt no one heard her ideas and there was always a negative spin towards her. 

“It was mentally draining and my voice was often silenced,” she said. 

She said the underrepresentation of people of color was evident not only in the department she worked at but also as an overall issue in the university making her feel uncomfortable and discriminated against. However, she does not describe any specific situation where these events occurred in the exit interview.

Person #2

Person #2 worked as an assistant professor for almost two years. She had over 10 years of teaching experience and arrived at FAU in the middle of the Fall 2018 semester. 

After the first few months, she said she received “nasty student evaluations with very strong words.” She was used to that type of feedback, but didn’t know it was going to start a process against her. 

“They started saying that I needed to start an improvement process plan. Although I was almost new because I arrived at the half of the semester, they didn’t even sit down and went on the normal protocol,” she said. “They threw a performance plan in my face and said, ‘sign it.’ There was no input for me at all. There was no agreement at all. When I asked what happens if I don’t sign it, the answer was a threat. A verbal threat. They said: ‘I don’t think that’s an option.’” 

Even after signing the performance plan out of fear of losing her job, she started feeling discriminated against and isolated even as she continued teaching.

“Nobody involved me in anything, no one talked to me, no one included me in anything. It was as if I had a disease and I got isolated. It felt like a death sentence or a guilty verdict pronounced even before the accused person has had a chance to make any improvements,” she said.

She also mentioned the lack of diversity in her department and the underrepresentation of people from ethnical and racial minorities in the roles of power and among its leaders.  

“The culture was the biggest factor in my decision to leave. The culture is one of hierarchy, exclusion and inequality,” she said.

She stated that Human Resources (HR) sent her a letter telling her they investigated, but did not find any evidence of discrimination. While she claims they threatened her with attorneys, she feared future retaliation in her life so she decided to move on and close the case.

“Neither Human Resources, nor the Offices of the Provost, or Office of Equity, Inclusion & Compliance are able to provide any meaningful or fair oversight in the matters of faculty grievances,” she declared.

Bobby Brown, executive director of FAU’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, stated that OEI’s job is to primarily focus on enforcing the university’s regulation 7.008 and policy 1.15, which addresses discrimination or harassment issues that may arise when people report incidents or file complains.

“Once they are reported, there are certain assessments that we complete to determine whether or not these are things that are within the jurisdiction of our policies and our procedures,” Brown said. “We are not looking to determine whether it happened or not; we look into if it violated the specific university policies.”

Brown explained three things have to be met in order to consider a situation discrimination or harassment: It has to be a severe conduct, objectively offensive and pervasive. 

“If an individual walks up to someone and they say something one time that the person perceives to be sexual harassment and that’s the only time they ever said it, and it could be true, once we start assessing that, we have to look at: is that conduct severe, objectively offensive and pervasive,” Brown said. “It has to meet all three. If it only meets one of those or two, we have to dismiss it.” 

Person #2 said HR treated her like a criminal who committed a wrongdoing, even though she says that’s not who she is.

“I’m not that type of person,” she said. “I’m a very student-oriented person, I cooperate with everyone, but they accused me several times. It was very unfair. I was scared because I was targeted, I felt threatened, I was alone. I would never do that to someone.”

Brown said different departments hold variations of strategies and policies in the university, not only at the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

“The majority of times, people don’t want to start an investigation; they just want support and that is what we work for alongside the state’s policies and the universities regulations,” Brown said. “Sometimes if the outcome is not what people think it should be, they feel we didn’t do anything but we act according to our policies. We are not on anybody’s side, we have to operate in a neutral manner.”

Sofia De La Espriella is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or message her on Instagram @sofidelaespriella