Former chief of information officer sues university for discrimination

James Pulliam, former chief of information officer at Wichita State, has sued the university in federal court on claims that he was fired for objecting to racial and sexual language used by the university’s chief data officer, David Wright.  

According to the suit, filed March 14 in Kansas City, Pulliam is seeking damages in violation to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on race, sex, national origin and religion.

The lawsuit details that Pulliam “was unlawfully retaliated against for opposing race discrimination and/or sexual harassment.”

According to the lawsuit, Wright, WSU’s associate vice president for Academic Affairs and chief data officer, made racial and sexually offensive remarks and objectified women around Pulliam and other university employees.

“It’s a personnel matter, and we welcome the opportunity to resolve it through the legal process,” said WSU’s general counsel, David Moses, in a statement.

Pulliam began working for the university in July 2014 and worked with Wright, who told Pulliam he was not allowed in certain areas of the university due his language, the lawsuit alleges.

In September 2014 — two months later — WSU began searching for a chief information security officer and project management officer, in which Wright and Pulliam conducted interviews. The lawsuit states that during an interview with an African-American candidate, Wright made a racial comment to which Pulliam objected as being racially offensive.

Pulliam then went to Tony Vizzini, provost and senior vice president of Academic Affairs, to report Wright’s behavior. When Pulliam met with Vizzini, the lawsuit said, Vizzini said the university could not do anything about Wright’s inappropriate behavior because he was “protected.”

Vizzini told Pulliam in November 2014, according to the lawsuit, that his management style “was not working out,” and in February of last year, university officials placed Pulliam on administrative leave, telling him his contract would not be renewed.

Pulliam could not be reached for comment.

This is the second lawsuit filed against WSU by a former university official this month.

Wade Robinson, former vice president for Student Affairs, sued WSU and President Bardo on March 2 on alleged violations of Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination.