Biology professor sues for back pay


Doris Haugen Associated Press

A professor has sued South Dakota State University alleging that administrators consistently gave him smaller salary increases than his peers because of his race.

Henry Kayongo-Male is a tenured biology teacher from Uganda who has worked at SDSU since 1986.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Kayongo-Male said the university discriminated against him in the way it applied the formula used to determine faculty raises. He seeks back pay and damages to be determined by a jury.

SDSU’s actions have caused Kayongo-Male to suffer substantial mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and other non-monetary losses, the complaint states.

Lawyer Richard Helsper of Brookings, who is representing the university, was not immediately available to comment.

Thomas Clayton of Sioux Falls, Kayongo-Male’s attorney, said his client has been recognized for both his teaching and research work. But those accomplishments weren’t reflected when salary increases were calculated, Clayton said.

Kayongo-Male, the only black in the biology department, “consistently received incredible high marks for his teaching capabilities yet he consistently has been the lowest- or second-lowest paid professor in the whole department,” said Clayton.

According the lawsuit, Kayongo-Male began researching department salary increases in May 2003 after his contract for the next year included a 1.76 percent raise.

When he asked the head of the biology department, Thomas Cheesborough, why the raise was so low, he was told everyone in the department received similarly low raises that year, Kayongo-Male said in the lawsuit.

Annual salary increases at SDSU are based on a formula that considers teaching and advising responsibilities, research and scholarship, and service. As part of the calculation, the department head weights each area according to a workload percentage, the lawsuit said.

“SDSU’s methodology for determining annual professorial pay raises, although perhaps facially neutral, resulted in discrimination against (the) plaintiff due to its disparate impact against him,” the lawsuit said.

Kayongo-Male said when he started checking into the raises paid to peers, he found his was among the lowest, with the highest increase that year being 9.4 percent.

The complaint said Kayongo-Male then researched salary comparisons in the biology department going back to 1992 and found similar disparity.

A trial date has not been set, said Clayton. The suit was filed Oct. 26.

SDSU filed its answer on Nov. 17. Among its contentions, SDSU said Kayongo-Male is barred from seeking some of his claims by the statute of limitations and that he failed to start the lawsuit within the prescribed time. SDSU denied most of the allegations in the suit.