The former director of Ohio University’s LGBT Center, delfin bautista, who was ousted in January 2019, filed on Monday two lawsuits against the university — one alleging it treated them unfairly on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and the other primarily a class action demanding relief for university employees who have been required to pay back work-related expenses.
The discrimination suit was filed in The Southern District of Ohio, a federal court, and the class action was filed in the Ohio Court of Claims, both on bautista’s (who uses they/them pronouns and the lowercase spelling of their name) behalf by Athens attorney Michael Fradin who has a history of representing clients across the region in both civil rights and class action lawsuits.
“True to delfin’s altruistic nature and their tendency to focus on their community, they have chosen to seek justice not only for themself but for all others similarly situated,” Fradin said of his client in a statement.
OU in 2019 did not initially provide a clear reasoning for letting go of bautista, prompting backlash among students and members of the LGBTQ community, much of it aimed at Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Gigi Secuban who authorized their removal.
It was revealed through an internal audit made public in February 2019 that bautista, who’s remained a prominent figure in Athens activism, made more than $6,000 worth of purchases through the LGBT Center that were not reportedly covered under university policy.
The university ultimately mandated that bautista reimburse $6,319.98, though they haven’t repaid anything to date, a university spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Much of the money was spent on comfort meals and entertainment for OU students, including a $109.51 expenditure for a “self-care meal (students upset over inauguration)” of U.S. President Donald Trump at El Camino in Athens; a $77.95 “self-care” dinner at Applebee’s for a student who was hospitalized; and a $86.10 “self-care staff meeting — staff feeling burnt out” at OU’s now-defunct Shively Dining Hall, The NEWS previously reported.
bautista alleged in the court of claims suit that they worked in excess of the maximum weekly hours permitted under labor laws, but was not paid overtime because OU’s practice of requiring reimbursements from administrative salaries meant that under labor laws those employees were not exempt from overtime pay.
The suit clams bautista has reason to believe that more than 40 people could potentially join the class action. Those eligible include all current and former administrative exempt salaried university employees who reimbursed OU for sales taxes, business meals, business travel or other business-related expenses made on a university card, according to the lawsuit.
In federal court, bautista alleged that the university was indifferent toward what they called a hostile work environment and that bautista was retaliated against in the form of dismissal when they brought to the university’s attention what they perceived as discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
It alleged that Secuban, shortly after she was hired as vice president for diversity and Inclusion where she oversaw bautista, regularly singled out them in what amounted to discriminatory treatment. Secuban ignored bautista and the LGBT Center except when she found an opportunity to “chastise, castigate, intimidate, or discipline” them, the lawsuit alleged.
She allegedly made regular visits to the LGBT Center, reportedly saying she was just “‘popping in,’” but often rejected opportunities to engage with the center’s students and staff, according to the suit.
bautista allegedly asked other directors within the OU Office of Diversity and Inclusion if Secuban often paid them surprise visits, but the directors denied to bautista that such interactions occurred.
“Secuban’s visits to the LGBT Center were thinly veiled attempts to intimidate Plaintiff bautista, rather than a meaningful attempt at engagement,” the suit said.
bautista was allegedly also the only director within the diversity office whose meetings with Secuban included the presence of a human resources representative, Bill Fodor. And bautista was the only director within the diversity office who was subjected to an audit, the lawsuit alleged.
Secuban also allegedly mispronounced, misgendered and deadnamed (to use the birth name of a transgender person without their consent) bautista and other transgender students.
In response to what they viewed as discrimination, bautista filed a compliant with OU’s Title IX office in September 2018 comparing Secuban’s treatment of bautista to other directors within the diversity office. A month later, bautista filed a second complaint explaining that the allegedly disparate treatment they experienced had become more intense.
The lawsuit alleged that the university was deliberately indifferent to the instances described as discriminatory by bautista in both Title IX complaints.
In January 2019, Secuban ousted bautista in “an exceedingly unprofessional, demeaning and humiliating fashion,” the suit alleged.
bautista allegedly arrived to work that day to find their email address deactivated and Secuban allegedly laughed while she informed them of their termination. Secuban allegedly did not offer bautista a “legitimate reason” for their removal, saying the diversity office was “moving in a different direction,” the lawsuit alleged.
The suit alleged that Secuban’s discriminatory and disparate treatment of bautista created an environment that “was patently and viscerally unsafe” and was based solely on their sexual orientation and gender identity.