SUNY Brockport President sued for discrimination, suit reveals new information on firing of Dr. Cephas Archie

Berkeley Brean
Updated: June 09, 2020 09:20 PM
Created: June 09, 2020 05:53 PM

BROCKPORT, N.Y. (WHEC) — The president of SUNY Brockport and the Vice President for Advancement are being sued for racial discrimination.

The lawsuit was filed by Victoria Elsenheimer, an assistant to one of the school's vice presidents. The lawsuit says when three white assistants at SUNY Brockport got an upgrade to their title in 2018 and 2019, Elsenheimer didn't, and the lawsuit says it's because she's black. 

Click here to read the lawsuit.

It has been a difficult year at SUNY Brockport. In February, students protested the firing of the school's Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Cephas Archie.

In March, the protests prompted a visit by the then SUNY Chancellor. 

Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "In February, you said the racial climate at Brockport was 'unacceptable.'"

Kristina Johnson, Former SUNY Chancellor: "Right."

Brean: "What is it now?"

Johnson: "We're making progress."

But before all this, Elsenheimer filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint filed last October is the basis of this discrimination lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme court Monday.

Just like it is spelled out in the EEOC complaint, Elsenheimer's lawsuit says three assistants to vice presidents at Brockport got elevated to executive assistant. 

She did not. 

The three other assistants are white. 

Elsenheimer is African American. 

The lawsuit says she didn't get the title promotion until she complained about it and never got a clear reason for getting passed over. 

The lawsuit accuses the Brockport president and vice president of advancement of "discrimination" and "retaliation."

When I contacted Elsenheimer's attorney, Andrew Burns said he has "no comment, at this time." 

The college says its lawyers only saw the lawsuit for the first time Tuesday after News10NBC alerted college communication officials to it.

Therefore, they have no comment on it. 

In February, in the midst of protests, Brockport President Heidi Macpherson addressed students and said she had a five-point plan to fix the problems including revamping the bias reporting system at the college. 

"We need to revamp that in many different ways to make sure that it is successful and something that leads to real action," Macpherson told students standing outside her office on Feb. 13. 

In addition to revamping the bias reporting system, President Macpherson said she was bringing in Rodman King, the Chief Diversity Officer at SUNY Oswego. Dr. King declined to talk to us for this story. 

Macpherson said she was requiring Brockport leadership, both at the administration and department levels, to undergo training on implicit bias, institutional racism and structural inequality.

She promised more "community conversations" with minority students. 

And lastly, Macpherson said there would be a review of demographics and diversity representation of every department

"And we can devise a plan to eliminate those diversity deserts," she said on February 13th. "These actions are the direct result of feedback and needs that I have heard from you students, from faculty and from staff on campus. Please know that this is just the beginning. I will continue to do everything in my power to help rebuild what has been broken on campus."

The Firing of Dr. Cephas Archie

What started the protests this year was the firing of Brockport's Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Cephas Archie. The lawsuit gets into his firing to illustrate what it calls the school president's and her cabinet's "racially discriminatory animus." 

The lawsuit says "SUNY Brockport and Macpherson retaliated and took adverse employment actions against Archie and the HR Employee to punish them for supporting Elsenheimer..."

In August 2018, when the school's administration building was being renovated, the lawsuit says Macpherson moved all of the people who reported directly to her into the same building, except Archie.

The lawsuit says "all of Macpherson's other direct reports were white." The lawsuit says Archie and his office were moved "to Morgan Hall – a dirty, roach-infested building that lacked proper heating and lighting and had been designated for demolition."

The lawsuit says "This is just one example in which Macpherson regularly treated Archie differently than every one of her white direct reports."

The lawsuit details the days just before Archie's firing. It says on Jan. 22, 2020, Archie texted the school's top communication officer, David Mihalyov, that Archie's mother was critically ill.

That night, the lawsuit says Archie received a text from President Macpherson saying she was aware of it. 

The next day, Jan. 23, the lawsuit says Archie attended Macpherson's Athena Award ceremony. The following day, Janu. 24, the lawsuit says Archie was "terminated." 

Dr. Archie works for the City of Rochester now. I contacted the mayor's office requesting an interview with him. The mayor's office said Dr. Archie declined the invitation.

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