George Mason School of Law Sued for Sexual Harassment


… This July, Kyndra Rotunda filed a lawsuit against the Arlington, Va., school, where just three years before she had happily signed on as director of a legal assistance clinic for military service members. In her suit, she alleges she was harassed by the clinic’s executive director, Joseph Zengerle, whose actions she says drove her into leaving after she turned down his sexual advances.

Rotunda alleges in court documents that, despite her complaints about Zengerle, George Mason “knowingly” tolerated his behavior. Last month, her suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia,survived a motion to dismiss. “I was sexually harassed at one of America’s upper-tier law schools, and they shouldn’t be able to get away with it,” said Rotunda in an interview before she sued.

In court papers, defendants George Mason University, law school Dean Daniel Polsby and Zengerle have denied all allegations of wrongdoing. Polsby and Zengerle declined to comment on the suit, as did George Mason’s lead attorney, Jeffrey Huvelle of Washington-based Covington & Burling.

Kyndra Rotunda arrived at George Mason in September 2006 having previously served as a lawyer in the U.S. Army. She had been in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as a part of the military legal team that prosecuted Osama bin Laden’s driver. Guantánamo was also where she met her husband, then consulting for the U.S. Department of Defense.

According to her complaint, Rotunda joined the law school believing that she would be in charge of the clinic. She alleges she was told that Zengerle, the clinic’s founder, would help her make the transition and then move on to other responsibilities.

It didn’t go that way. In her complaint, Rotunda claims that Zengerle became uncomfortably attentive. In one incident, she claims he called himself her “knight and protector”; in another he bought her a scarf and suggested how she should wear it. In December 2006, according to the complaint, he allegedly invited her to drinks alone at his house, then stormed into her office screaming after she did not go.

After that incident, Rotunda claims in court documents, Zengerle began micromanaging her work. He “repeatedly came uncomfortably close.” There was another screaming incident.

Rotunda alleges that her complaints to administrators were largely ignored, leading only to a perfunctory investigation and forced mediation between her and Zengerle. She says in court documents that administrators tried to wring concessions from her that would “weaken her legal position.”

On Aug. 3, 2007, Rotunda filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Within a few days, she alleges, Zengerle handed her a written reprimand, criticizing her for insubordination. She resigned later that month. The EEOC issued a “right to sue” letter in July of this year.

Rotunda, who is represented by Richard Seymour of Washington, D.C.’s Law Office of Richard T. Seymour, raised 13 counts in her lawsuit, including sex and pay discrimination, actual and constructive termination, retaliation and constitutional violations (George Mason is a state school). U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema dismissed one constitutional claim and part of another on Sept. 11.

Rotunda’s pay discrimination claim hinges on the fact that, while she was paid $70,000 as director of the clinic, Zengerle was paid more than $130,000. …

The George Mason School of Law is notorious for the appallingly low number of tenured women on its faculty.

–Ann Bartow

This entry was posted in Academia, Employment Discrimination, Feminism and Law, Feminism and the Workplace, Law Schools, Law Teaching, Sexual Harassment. Bookmark the permalink.

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