BROCKPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — A SUNY Brockport employee is speaking out after a SUNY-organized investigation concluded she was retaliated against by the Vice President for Advancement. Victoria Elsenheimer filed a complaint with the college and SUNY systems about an incident that happened in October of 2018.
Elsenheimer is the executive assistant to Mike Andriatch, the Vice President for Advancement at SUNY Brockport. Last February, Elsenheimer filed charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the university, saying she was discriminated against by Andriatch, and “passed up for a title change because of her race.” Elsenheimer said three white women with the same job title as herself received title changes to executive assistants while she, a black woman, did not. She said only after filing a complaint did she receive the title change.
“I received a lot of different rationales that did not align with the truth, so many different rationales from many different people that did not align,” Elsenheimer said of the response she received when she asked why she didn’t get the title change.
An informal investigation was conducted at Brockport, which found no evidence of discrimination or retaliation. Elsenheimer kept pushing and requested a formal investigation by a Tripartite Panel organized by SUNY.
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The panel conducted an extensive review of the case, and their investigation yielded a 59-page report that included records and witness interviews. SUNY Chancellor Designee, Teresa Miller published a statement about the panel’s investigation which concluded the evidence “supports a finding of retaliation.”
“If you’ve done nothing wrong there’s no reason to retaliate against anybody,” Elsenheimer said.
Miller said the vice president was told to treat Elsenheimer the same after the complaint was made but the investigation found he seemed to avoid her altogether. She said in her statement:
“Avoidance in this context is not leadership. And by treating complainant differently, respondent created a risk of liability on the part of the university. A shift in culture is sorely needed.“
“They chose not to communicate with me, they chose not to engage with me, and even after this came out there still has not been that ownership of, ‘we’re sorry that we made you feel that way, we’re sorry if it looked as though we were discriminating against you,'” Elsenheimer said.
On discrimination, Miller said the panel was unable to reach a consensus on on the claim of disparate treatment based on race. Although no consensus on discrimination was reached, Miller said: “Though the Complainant’s race-based complaint due to title did not rise to the legal standard of disparate treatment as determined by the Panel, the culture of the environment does not appear to be inclusive per the panel’s summary.”
Elsenheimer said she’ll always have faith in Brockport, but she just wants accountability.
“We all have biases but when we allow those biases to cloud our judgement we should be held accountable,” she said. “My case is no different from other people who have claimed discrimination or retaliation. The only difference is I had the courage to push for answers to make them accountable and that’s all I want — I want people held accountable.”
The panel recommended that Dr. Rodmon King, Chief Diversity Officer at SUNY Oswego conduct mediation and training with Andriatch, Elsenheimer, and other colleagues with the goal of increasing cultural competency, educating on inclusive values, while creating an inclusive climate. Dr. King is currently consulting on a special assignment at SUNY Brockport to advise on diversity, equity, and inclusion, under the authority of the SUNY Chancellor’s office. Miller’s statement said Dr. King’s mediation and training take place no later than the end of the year.
The panel recommended an external body to examine culture of the Division of Advancement, including a complete pay review to ensure equity in the division, with a focus on race and gender. This review is to occur within the next six months.
The panel also concluded that the HR processes involved in this case were “underdeveloped, inconsistent, and lacked clear direction.” According to the summary, SUNY’s Office of General Counsel is currently working “to improve discrimination complaint investigation procedures across the SUNY system.”
Lastly, the statement recommended that a letter of expectation be placed in Andriatch’s personnel file that explains specific expectations “if he is to remain in leadership on the Brockport campus.”
Elsenheimer said she believes the report speaks for itself. “The Tripartite has spoken, Dr. Miller has spoken, and although systemic racism is within the walls of SUNY, unfortunately, I think Dr. Miller did speak loud and clear and to a certain degree hold the president and her leadership team accountable for their actions.”
A spokesperson for the college said this in a statement:
“The tripartite process, including all reports and recommendations, are confidential. Out of respect to the individuals involved – including the impartial individuals who were asked to sit on the tripartite panel – we will honor that confidentiality.
President Macpherson fully understands that it will take a great deal of hard work, countless hours of crucial conversations, as well as time to strengthen our campus climate. We are proud of the work that has been accomplished in recent months and are deeply committed to building an anti-racist community at SUNY Brockport.”