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Longtime USC English professor drops lawsuit over suspension without pay

LOS ANGELES — A longtime USC English professor — and former poet laureate of California — has dropped the second of two legal actions she brought against the university stemming from her suspension without pay for the fall 2020 semester for allegedly writing excessive emails to students and breaching a student’s privacy.

Attorneys for Carol Muske-Dukes filed court papers on Nov. 6 with Judge Mel Red Recana asking that her case be dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning it cannot be refiled. The court papers do not state why Muske-Dukes is dropping the case, but in November 2021 Recana granted USC’s motion to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s claims.

Muske-Dukes’ lawsuit was filed in July 2021 and alleged discrimination, retaliation, fraud and negligent misrepresentation. In a separate legal action, Muske-Dukes filed a petition in February 2021 asking a judge to order the university to set aside its findings and sanctions against the now 77-year-old professor that resulted from an Office of Professionalism and Ethics investigation conducted from November 2018 through October 2019. Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff denied the petition in November 2022.

USC previously issued a statement regarding the recently dropped case.

“The university stands by its investigation and sanctioning process and plans to vigorously defend itself against this lawsuit,” the statement read.

According to the dropped suit, Muske-Dukes is an “award-winning teacher and nationally known author having published 16 internationally reviewed books, including novels, poetry, essays and co-edited anthologies. These works have generated awards and acclaim.”

Muske-Dukes received a gubernatorial appointment as poet laureate of California from 2008-2011, a position held by only nine poets since 1915, according to her dropped suit.

“Plaintiff’s professional accomplishments have brought nothing but acclaim and prestige to USC,” the dropped suit stated.

Citing several examples, the suit dropped alleged USC has “repeatedly and consistently applied a separate standard regarding the conduct of male faculty, administrators and other staff and has imposed entirely different discipline compared with its policies toward women.”

The accusations against Muske-Dukes were made “by a few graduate students” and for most of that period, USC “hid the investigation from plaintiff, failed to notify her of the charges against her or to identify her accusers and failed to permit her to review the evidence,” the dropped suit alleged.

Muske-Dukes was summoned for an interview in June 2019 that turned into a five-hour interrogation by two attorneys, and that is when she learned why was being investigated, the dropped suit stated.

“Plaintiff was not permitted to have even an advisor with her during the interrogation,” the dropped suit stated.

In October 2019, the university found that Muske-Dukes violated the privacy and confidentiality of a student, pressured a student regarding a professional opportunity and engaged in inappropriate and excessive communications with students, according to the dropped suit.

When Muske-Dukes was suspended without pay for the fall 2020 semester, she lost more than $110,000 and she was prohibited from any university role, honorific recognition, lectures on campus, use of her office and attendance at any university or departmental events, punishment she alleges was “grossly disproportionate,” according to the dropped suit.

Muske-Dukes was hired by USC in 1984, obtained tenure in 1991 and became a full-professor two years later, her dropped suit stated.

According to her web site, Muske-Dukes “is now officially retired from USC.”

Source: Orange County Register

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