A Korean American professor at the University of Chicago Illinois (UIC) has filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging he was repeatedly discriminated against and forced to teach a class for which he wasn’t qualified because he is Asian.
Seung-Whan Choi, a professor of International Relations in UIC’s political science department, filed an initial complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2010 after he was fired from his tenured position for no apparent reason.
Following a successful mediation, he was reinstated in 2011. But according to the lawsuit — filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Chicago — UIC officials resented his decision and retaliated by ostracizing him from the rest of the department and treating him unfairly.
Choi alleges for instance that he was denied pay rises and a promotion to full professorship on the grounds that he lacked sufficient academic standing, although his curriculum vitae boasts more than 30 scholarly journal publications and shows he is the author of three books.
The lawsuit also claims that the professor, a US citizen of Korean descent, was repeatedly discriminated against by co-workers due to his ethnicity, citing one instance where he was forced to teach a statistics class he wasn’t qualified for because, one department official said, “Asians, especially Koreans are very good at mathematics and statistics.”
During another incident in 2015, Choi claims that the department head Dennis Judd changed the grade of one of his undergraduate students without consulting him .
When confronted about it, the lawsuit says Judd told Choi that “as a foreigner” he “has to keep in mind who he is dealing with and what he is wishing for,” and that he knew “Koreans are stubborn and do not understand American culture of compromise when dealing with their boss.”
In addition, Choi says in court filings that he was pressured into teaching a course in Korean politics, despite having received no formal training in that field.
“They don’t like Korean-Americans,” Choi told the Chicago Tribune “I’m supposed to be very submissive to the department head, who is white-American.”
In October 2016, the professor filed a second complaint with the EEOC accusing the department of discrimination and retaliation, and received a “right to sue” notice a few days later.
The years of continued harassment have humiliated Choi and worsened is family life, causing him to suffer from depression and high blood pressure, the lawsuit claims.
“It’s frustrating and sometimes I just don’t want to go to work, because of … the bad and dirty politics within the department,” he told the Tribune.
It is unclear how much Choi is seeking in punitive damages.