Amidst a year of university-wide diversity talks, many people still feel marginalized at NYU. One such person is former Steinhardt professor Koya Abe, who filed an employment and discrimination lawsuit against NYU on Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Jennifer Unruh, the attorney representing Abe, said the legal actions reflect conditions that existed at the school for a long time.
“In Mr. Abe’s case, ‘retribution’ was expressly authorized by an NYU official,” Unruh said. “Within mere hours of his internal complaint of a discriminatory wage action, NYU and Steinhardt School officials made a decision to discharge him from his teaching position in direct response to that complaint.”
Unruh said that Abe then filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and NYU administrators responded by terminating his employment from a second faculty position at the university.
However, NYU spokesperson Matthew Nagel said the case is baseless and without merit.
“This case involves someone — represented by his lawyer-wife — who has engaged in serial and malicious litigation since 2010,” Nagel said. “He has commenced no less than eight lawsuits against NYU and approximately 10 of its administrators, deans, faculty members and staff.”
Nagel said that many of the lawsuits have been dismissed, and three were consolidated into one state court action. He said that regarding this case, NYU will file motion for dismissal on summary judgment.
Abe said that he filed a suit because he thinks the school has not corrected its discriminatory practices.
“I believe that NYU is a great and privileged educational institution,” Abe said. “However, my experience as faculty member revealed that the reality of NYU conflicted with the values that NYU should represent as social institution.”
He said that he hopes the claims against NYU will better the institution and bring greater equality to it, fulfilling the lessons he learned about American culture as a college freshman in Japan.
“I was moved by the Western concept of viewing privilege as having a high standard of responsibility to others, rather than for one’s own benefit,” Abe said. “This idea effected my view of life, and it is still something that I still feel strongly.”
CAS senior Carolyn Fan is an Asian-American activist and is part of organizations that focus on cultivating Asian/Pacific/American identities. She believes this suit is a potential example of the bamboo ceiling, which is akin to the glass ceiling for women.
“Although stereotypes are seemingly ‘positive,’ we’re also consistently seen as outsiders,” Fan said. “Asian-Americans are less likely to hold positions of power often. This is due to stereotypes that Asian-American/Asian workers are quiet and submissive and lack initiative and leadership skills.”
She also said that this stems from pressure to fit the “good immigrant” and “model minority” myths, which reinforces stigmatizing Asian-Americans as outsiders.
Unruh said that Abe suffered many emotional and financial injuries throughout this case. Abe is suing for $10 million in punitive damages and $6 million in actual and compensatory damages.
“Because of NYU’s retaliatory actions, Mr. Abe has suffered substantial damage to his academic career,” Unruh said. “He looks forward to presenting his claims to a New York jury.”
Additional reporting by Ludovica Grieco. Email Diamond Naga Siu and Abraham Gross at [email protected].