La Salle accused of discrimination

January 15, 2008 1:08:07 PM PST
An Iranian-born academic charges that La Salle University illegally denied him promotions and that an official accused him of starting a "one-man jihad" over the issue.

Madjid Tavana's discrimination suit against the Catholic college in Philadelphia went to trial this week after a federal judge found enough evidence to send the case to a jury.

Tavana, who is Muslim, says he was denied a promotion and higher pay because of religious and ethnic bias that started after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

La Salle denies the charges.

Tavana, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Voorhees, N.J., joined the faculty as a business instructor in 1984. He rose through the ranks to become a tenured professor and then chair of the management department in 1993; he was reappointed to the four-year post in 1997 and again in May 2001.

But shortly after the attacks, former business school dean Gregory Bruce told Tavana that the provost did not want anyone in the job for 12 years and asked him to step down, according to the suit.

The suit names five other faculty members - all American-born, non-Muslim males - who have allegedly held department chairmanships for more than 12 years.

Tavana refused to step down, but says he was not reappointed in 2005 despite the recommendation of faculty. Tavana also alleges that he was passed over for the job of business school dean in 2005 and 2006.

In addition, Tavana charges that Bruce once asked him if an applicant of Indian descent was Muslim, and in conversation compared Tavana to an Iranian-born former faculty member who had tangled with a supervisor.

"Bruce stated to Tavana that 'All Iranians have a problem with authority.' Bruce further stated, 'Look what you did to the Shah,"' according to the suit.

Both Bruce and La Salle spokesman Jon Caroulis declined comment Tuesday because of the pending litigation.

The trial started Monday before U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner and is expected to last about a week. Joyner earlier threw out allegations involving an academic award while allowing the rest of Tavana's suit to go forward.

Tavana is seeking an appropriate position and more than $150,000 in back pay and damages. He is on a previously arranged sabbatical this year.

Lawyers Margaret Sherry Lurio for Tavana and Carmon M. Harvey for La Salle did not return messages left at their offices Tuesday.