White Diversity Director Sues Wisconsin University For Allegedly Demoting Her

The case involves the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
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A former diversity director at a Wisconsin university is suing the school for allegedly demoting her because she is “white.”

Rochelle Hoffman filed a federal lawsuit last week against University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, alleging that the school essentially forced her to resign by allowing a hostile work environment due to her race.

“After eight months of intense hostility and staff questioning her ‘legitimacy’ in the department because of her race and color, she felt she had no choice but to resign,” reads the suit, which was filed on December 14 in the Western District of Wisconsin.

The trouble began last year, when the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire reorganized its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) department and created a new Office of Multicultural Student Services, according to the suit.

Hoffman was appointed interim director of the new office by the chief diversity officer.

From that point on, Hoffman alleges she was subjected to criticism and harassment solely because she was white.

At an open house, students said, “You hired a white woman as the Interim Director?” and “We don’t want white people in the [Multicultural Student Services] office,” according to the lawsuit.

The student senate adopted a resolution opposing the diversity office reorganization and expressing “concerns over placing white identifying individuals in positions of interim leadership,” a reference to Hoffman, the suit says.


Meanwhile, faculty allegedly approached the chief diversity officer, who had appointed Hoffman director, with concerns about the “optics” of people of color being replaced by white people since the previous two directors were black and Asian.

Some employees became “hostile and argumentative” with Hoffman and stopped talking to her and sharing their calendars with her, the lawsuit claims.

“It was exclusively Hoffman’s identity as white that was the issue; criticism was about her race and color, not her qualifications,” the lawsuit states.

Then, someone filed an anonymous complaint against Hoffman, saying her presence made them “uncomfortable and that it was hard for her to speak openly in a space made for her,” the lawsuit says.

In response to the complaint, the head of the university’s Affirmative Action office met with Hoffman and told her she needed to move to a different department for her “personal and professional safety,” the lawsuit says.

Hoffman ultimately agreed to move to Student Support Services even though she loved the work she was doing in the diversity office and did not want to move, she claims.

Previously, Hoffman had filed multiple other complaints with the university trying to solve the workplace issues. A human resource manager advised her to drop one of the complaints or suffer potential career damage, the lawsuit says.

Also, last fall just days before classes started, Hoffman says she was pulled off a class she was supposed to teach without notice, which she believes was “retaliation” for pursuing her discrimination complaint.

Hoffman is demanding financial compensation for lost wages as well as punitive damages against two university administrators, the head of the Affirmative Action Office and Chancellor Jim Schmidt.

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