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2 say EDMC retaliated for discrimination complaints

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Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:24 a.m.
 

Two admissions officers at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh claim its corporate owner, Pittsburgh-based Education Management Corp., retaliated against them after they filed discrimination complaints against the institute, their lawyer said.

He said the men believe they were targeted recently when the school adopted a dispute resolution policy that must be followed as a condition of employment and made it retroactive, to before the men filed their discrimination complaints.

In August, Lamont Jones, 47, and Michael Scott, 55, who are assistant admissions directors, joined Darrell Evans and an unnamed woman in age-discrimination claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Evans, 49, who had been an associate director of admissions, and the woman, who is in her 50s, were fired this year.

Jones and Evans included racial discrimination in their claims.

In October, Jones and Scott filed additional complaints with the EEOC alleging that because of their initial claims, EDMC targeted them with a policy requiring “employees, former employees and applicants for employment” of the corporation and its subsidiaries to submit to a dispute-resolution procedure, rather than legal claims, as a condition of employment.

The policy states that it is retroactive to July 1.

Amos Jones, a Washington-based lawyer who represents the four, said the EEOC has 180 days from the time of the filing to issue a decision on complaints.

The Art Institute declined to respond.

“We're not commenting on employee relations matters,” said Jacqueline Muller, vice president of communications and public relations for Education Management.

But Pittsburgh labor lawyer Sam Cordes, who is not involved in the case, said the retroactive policy could be subject to challenge.

“The whole thing comes down to why the employer is filing it at this point and this sounds suspicious,” Cordes said.

Last spring, Lamont Jones noticed that he was singled out for performance deficiencies after he complained about scholarship panels that did not represent minorities, said Amos Jones. The others allege that they too were subject to such warnings, while lower performing younger employees were not cited.

“The cycle began in April when (the Art Institute) started cycling out people in their 40s and bringing people in their 20s,” Amos Jones said.

“It's a bad, bad situation,” he said. “The Art Institute of Pittsburgh has had a fine reputation for nearly 100 years, but EDMC's business practices are wrapped around the wrong principles.”

The EEOC does not comment on pending complaints, maintaining they are private until a ruling is issued.

The publicly traded, for-profit EDMC has battled state and federal lawsuits alleging improper recruitment practices and heightened scrutiny over student retention and graduation rates. The corporation this year also saw its stock price plummet from $29.90 to $2.99 on Thursday. As enrollment sagged, the company downsized hundreds of employees at its schools across the country.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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