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UM seeks to dismiss one plaintiff from suit alleging discrimination against female employees

UM answers lawsuit on sex-discrimination against female employees
Posted at 3:27 PM, Oct 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 19:27:26-04

MISSOULA — The University of Montana Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss one of four female plaintiffs in a potential class-action lawsuit that says the UM administration has created a “retaliatory culture” against women professionals who challenge its authority.

The filing Monday said the claims by social work Professor Mary-Ann Sontag Bowman should be dismissed, because they seek damages for being denied a position – department leader – for which she never applied.

UM and the state university system also said they’ll be providing other information that shows the claims in the Aug. 4 lawsuit are untrue and without legal merit.

“The complaint contains false and inflammatory allegations (and) fails to establish a viable claim under Title IX (the federal law against sex discrimination in education),” said UM spokesman Dave Kuntz. “We look forward to defending the university’s actions.”

Four plaintiffs filed the original lawsuit, but two weeks later they asked the court to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit, so other women professionals who’ve experienced discrimination at UM could join.

In addition to Bowman, the named plaintiffs are Catherine Cole, a former UM vice president; Barbara Koostra, former director of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture at UM; and Rhondie Voorhees, former dean of students at UM.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Missoula, seeks damages for the plaintiffs and a ruling that UM is violating Title IX of federal law, which forbids discrimination against women at educational institutions that get federal funding.

It also singled out UM President Seth Bodnar, saying under his leadership, “youth, perceived attractiveness and/or fitness were relevant factors for women navigating a successful path.”

All four women said they faced discrimination and retaliation – particularly after they disagreed with or disputed decisions made by Bodnar and the UM administration.

Bowman said she did not apply for head of School of Social Work in 2020, after UM leaders invited the current leader – a man – to reapply for another five-year term.

In Monday’s filing, the university said Bowman can’t legally make a claim that she faced discrimination under Title IX, because she could not be denied a position for which she didn’t apply.

UM also said Monday that claims in the lawsuit are “recitations of employment disputes” by someone who left her position voluntarily and two women whose contract weren’t renewed because of “widespread restructuring.”