BUSYNESS PREVENTED ME FROM PROVIDING a full report of the first day of the RAGHU MATHUR discrimination trial, including the important “opening statements.” Belatedly, I provide that report below:
The U.S. Courthouse on Spring Street is beautiful and old, built during the Depression. I always enjoy visiting that fine old building.
Naturally, to enter the building, you need to submit to the usual airport-style security screening. These days, you can usually manage to get past the gate without taking off your belt and shoes!
Judge A. Howard Matz’s courtroom is impressive, about 60’ by 60’, with an audience gallery occupying the back one third or so. (I’d show you a picture, but photography is forbidden.)
Tuesday’s jury selection process was interesting—it’s always fun guessing which side is gonna nix which potential juror. The jury pool was diverse: various backgrounds, ethnicities, etc. The film/TV industry was well represented, but so was auto repair and studentry. Most prospective jurors seemed reasonable, intelligent.
Eventually, the jury was whittled down to about eight people, and Judge Matz briefly lectured them about their task. The Plaintiff, he said, has the burden of proof, but “proving” her claim in this trial doesn’t mean establishing it “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For this case, he said, the standard is the “preponderance of the evidence.” That is, explained Matz, the claim made against the defendant must be more probably true than not true.”
FOR THE PLAINTIFF:
Opening statements commenced at about 1:50 on Tuesday. Carol Sobel, Cely Mora’s attorney, explained that Mora was making two claims: (1) that she was discriminated against—in the dean hire of Spring ’01—because she is a Latina; and (2) Mora and others who worked under Dean Poindexter were allowed by Mathur to suffer a hostile work environment.
Sobel explained that Poindexter’s lack of qualifications for the job was clear from the very beginning, a fact understood by most members of the hiring committee (whose role it was to winnow the field of applicants and make recommendations to the college President). While Mora had long been an Athletic Director at the college and had served as acting Dean for a year, Poindexter had no managerial experience at all; he was in fact an athletic trainer.
When Mora didn’t get the job, she returned to the classroom and took steps to leave room for the new dean to establish himself. Meanwhile, Poindexter’s first action was to take Mora’s office, despite its being a small faculty office that was distant from his assistant’s desk.
Very soon, other disturbing incidents began to occur. Poindexter, a large man, would fly into rages and behave in a menacing manner. He did this only with the women. Department chair Ted W went to IVC President Mathur to express concerns on behalf of the women, but Mathur took no action. Meanwhile, the more the women complained about Poindexter’s behavior, the worse his behavior became.
During the Spring of ’02, a particularly disturbing incident occurred; Poindexter screamed at and menaced a secretary—an event Ted W witnessed himself. The women grew increasingly fearful of Poindexter, and, soon, female PE instructors met with Poindexter only when accompanied by a male colleague.
Poindexter targeted the women of his School in other ways, giving them bad schedules and classes, delaying their pay, etc. The men were given what they wanted.
In April of ’02, after numerous informal complaints, six employees filed a formal “harassment” complaint against Poindexter.
Meanwhile, John Lowe, an instructor who had served on the hiring committee, began to do some digging into the new dean’s background. He discovered disturbing facts about Poindexter that were concealed during the dean search. When he brought the information to the attention of administrators, who acknowledged it, nothing was done.
Later, faculty discovered that Mathur had given Poindexter a “to do” list. But none of the tasks on the list concerned the most important issue, the safety issue.
Eventually, an investigation was launched, but it was not completed until a year after problems had been brought to Mathur’s attention. During that whole time, Poindexter was not removed from the workplace.
The investigation report of October, 2002, concluded that Poindexter did not have the skills to be dean, but that fact was already manifest during the search process in the Spring of ’01.
But if Poindexter was incompetent, why was he only incompetent in his dealings with the women? Even the men acknowledged that Poindexter’s behavioral issues only concerned the women.
FOR THE DEFENDANT:
Dennis Walsh presented the statement for the defense. He urged the jury to wait until all of the evidence was presented before they formed a judgment. There are, he said, two separate issues: (1) whether or not Cely Mora was discriminated against because of her race and (2) whether Mathur responded to the existence of a hostile work environment. According to Walsh, if Ms. Mora has a complaint, it is with Poindexter, not with Mathur.
This suit is “something that is personal,” he said.
According to Walsh, Mathur had very little involvement in the process that led to Poindexter’s hire in the Spring of 2001. The hiring committee’s job was to produce at least three qualified candidates for him to interview and choose among.
Walsh emphasized that, in the elaborate hiring process, the three candidates sent up to the President of the College (Mathur) were understood to be qualified and on an “equal footing.”
Mathur interviewed the three candidates, including Mora and Poindexter, and he “looked at the big picture stuff.” That (evidently) is why he favored Poindexter over Mora.
Walsh explained who Mathur is. He came to these shores from India and worked his way up to his current high position as Chancellor of the district.
When Mathur interviewed the three candidates, Mora, though a good candidate, didn’t impress. There was no discriminatory intent here.
Walsh further explained that, before the Board of Trustees voted to give Poindexter the job (based on Mathur’s recommendation), they heard from members of the committee and others who objected to Mathur’s selection. They heard all the arguments. Even so, they voted to give Poindexter the job.
Walsh acknowledged that Dean Poindexter “had some problems.” In part, he experienced problems because of faculty, including some members of the committee, said Walsh.
According to Walsh, Mathur and the district responded appropriately to the complaints about Poindexter, for the district launched an investigation. Mathur had nothing to do with that. The “female investigator” eventually filed a report that found no reason to conclude that Poindexter’s behavior re the complaining women was “based on their gender.”
Walsh noted that some of the people who later complained about Poindexter actually recommended him during the hiring process.
Walsh closed by asserting that, when all the facts are laid out, it will be clear that the focus of the “Poindexter” problem was not Mathur, but Poindexter.
Mathur is being sued because this is “personal,” said Walsh.
1. Why had faculty members of the hiring committee forwarded Poindexter’s name to the President for interview? Walsh failed to mention a motivation that has become clear during subsequent testimony. Faculty members of the hiring committee (there were administrators as well) were aware that, were they to fail to send up three applicants (instead of, say, just Mora), Mathur would “shut down” the process, forcing it to start from scratch. Some members of the committee naively supposed that Mathur would do the “right thing” and hire the plainly most qualified candidate: Mora.
2. About Mathur’s impressive rise to prominence. Walsh failed to mention the corruption, unseemly conduct, and illegality that attended that saga. Mathur's initial rise to administration occurred during a time in which the then-corrupt faculty union was in league with the "Board Majority" to reorganize the entire district and settle scores. See Dissent archives.
3. Why did the Board of Trustees go along with Mathur’s recommendation to hire Poindexter? Walsh failed to mention that the Board of Trustees had already had a long history of defending their man Mathur against faculty objections and charges of unprofessionalism. Indeed, the faculty had voted “no confidence” in Mathur overwhelmingly, but still the board supported Mathur. Eventually, Mathur was selected as Chancellor; a year later, he endured a 94% vote of “no confidence” among faculty. The board responded by giving Mathur a raise. He now makes about $300,000 a year.
To some members of the board, that faculty object to a Mathurian decision is ipso facto a reason to support it.
4. Can we trust Human Resources’ investigation of Poindexter? Walsh failed to mention that the head of Human Resources during the time of the Poindexter matter had been a member of the Board of Trustees. Indeed, she had been a member of the notoriously law-breaking board that illegally promoted Mathur to administration (once as interim President of IVC, and a second time, again illegally, as permanent president of IVC) back in 1997. See College board gives former board member district [HR] job. (3/8/01)
See also Former trustee only candidate for district [HR] job (2/22/01):
…Lorch, a former part-time instructor and a former board member, has supporters and detractors from a long-time history with the district.
Her supporters say she was a popular teacher and was a top contender for the personnel position. Her detractors say Lorch, as a trustee, had a hostile relationship with faculty members.
…During her time on the board, Lorch was part of a four-member majority that appointed Irvine Valley College president Raghu Mathur….