Claiming he was mistreated and fired for being a white, Christian, heterosexual man and for voicing his opposition to critical race theory, a former University of Wyoming employee is suing the institution.
Jeffrey Lynn Wilkins, now of South Dakota, filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the University of Wyoming and some of its top employees, asking for $874,619, plus attorney and court fees.
Chad Baldwin, University of Wyoming spokesman, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the university believes the case is “without merit.”
“And we intend to vigorously defend against it,” Baldwin said.
Wilkins began working for UW as a paid intern in 2015 and graduated from the university’s law school two years later, according to the Monday filing.
When Wilkins graduated from law school, the former director of the university’s research product center pushed the school to keep him employed because she “was impressed with his qualifications and capabilities,” the lawsuit says. He then worked for the college part-time as an intellectual property analyst until 2021.
But three of those four years, the suit alleges, were rife with discrimination: cuts in his work schedule, denied opportunities for promotion and, ultimately, termination.
Wilkins is a white, heterosexual, Christian male. He is part Native American, but “primarily” identifies as white, the lawsuit says.
‘Blatantly Racist, Sexist and Bigoted’
Wilkins alleges that one of the reasons he was fired by the college in 2021, along with his status as a white, straight, Christian male, was retaliation against him for speaking out against critical race theory.
During his employment, UW hired a chief diversity officer who required Wilkins in October 2019 to take a diversity training course “steeped in critical race theory,” the suit says.
“Furthermore, the University required all trainees to agree with this ideology before it would consider the training complete,” reads the suit.
By the end of the course Wilkins did not agree with critical race theory. He gave feedback stating that he opposes the theory because it is the “antithesis of Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s teachings” because it “overtly promotes the evaluation of skin color over the content of one’s character.”
He told the college critical race theory is “blatantly racist, sexist, and bigoted.” His feedback became part of his permanent employment record at the college, the suit states.
“Unfortunately, the way he was born, including his skin color and sex, and his solemnly held personal beliefs are not de rigeur (fashionable) enough for the University of Wyoming (research product center),” the suit says.
Wilkins wanted to be promoted to full time. He and one of his supervisors, who was a woman, often discussed how he could advance in the college’s employment hierarchy. He sought advancement opportunities often, the suit says.
The supervisor “told Mr. Wilkins directly in a personal meeting that he would have to find a way to ‘check a box’ – meaning fit into a non-straight-white-male-Christian category – if he wanted to move up at the University of Wyoming,” the suit claims. Also, she “never personally endorsed this internal discrimination at the University of Wyoming, but she unequivocally confirmed its existence.”
Check The Box
Wilkins has a degenerative eye condition. He claimed in his legal complaint that the supervisor encouraged him to use that condition as a “disability,” and that once he became “disabled enough” from the worsening condition, he would “check the (disabled) box and become promotable within the internal culture of the University of Wyoming.”
That female supervisor was promoted to a position specifically created for her, while her previous role was left empty.
The university then promoted Wilkins’ peer, H. Victoria Bryant “who had similar qualifications” to his, to the department director position without giving others an opportunity to apply, the suit claims.
The university said it gave Bryant an “emergency” promotion, but Wilkins alleges that the position already had been vacant for nine months.
The day after Bryant became the interim director of his department, the university fired Wilkins “with no explanation,” the suit claims.
Bryant did not immediately respond to a Cowboy State Daily email requesting comment.
People And Laws
Wilkins filed his suit against the university and against several top staffers in their official capacity:
- UW President Ed Seidel
- Kim Chestnut, interim vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion
- Parag Chitnis, vice president for research and economic development
- H. Victoria Bryant, director of the research product center
Wilkins’ suit evokes Wyoming’s nondiscrimination statute, which forbids employment against people on the basis of age (if over 40), sex, race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry or pregnancy.
The lawsuit also references the university’s own equal opportunity policy, as well as Title VI and Title IX of federal civil rights laws.
Wilkins further claims he was deprived of his 14th-Amendment right to equal protection, and his First-Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of religion.