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University of Michigan-Flint: LGBTQ Director Fired for Poor Performance Mistreating Staff

— February 27, 2020

While Heather Johnson has since sued the school, letters from her previous supervisor suggest the former Center of Gender and Sexuality director was a domineering and abusive boss.

Heather Johnson, the former director of the University of Michigan-Flint’s Center for Gender and Sexuality, has filed a federal lawsuit against the school, claiming she was fired for pro-LGBTQ advocacy.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Johnson is seeking reinstatement, damages, and payment of lost wages.

Johnson, adds the Free Press, was hired by the University of Michigan’s Flint campus in 2018. While she was initially appointed to head the Women’s Educational Center and Ellen Bommarito LGBTQ Center, she was also tasked with merging the two entities into one.

By and large, Johnson claims, she did was supposed to do with great success. For instance, in her first year of employment, Johnson secured a $100,000 grant for the center’s work. She also organized and held a number of events on campus.

But Johnson’s lawsuit seems to suggest that the University of Michigan’s local management was uncomfortable with her being there.

“Notwithstanding her many successes, Johnson regularly experienced in her meetings and interactions with her supervisor that he avoided making eye contact, interrupted her and responded abruptly without providing the approval or feedback she needed, and generally failed to show her in his words and conduct the respect he afforded his other direct reports,” the lawsuit states.

An LGBT flag. Image via PxHere. Public domain.

As the Free Press recalls, in 2019, Johnson’s supervisor—Christopher Giordano, Michigan’s vice chancellor of student affairs—collaborated with U-M Flint Chancellor Debasish Dutta to put together a group of staffers. Altogether, they’d be working on a campus-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion plan.

But Johnson wasn’t included.

“Concerned by this obvious oversight, two faculty members who sit on the Board of the CGS met with Giordano in September of 2019, to request that Johnson be included the UM-Flint DEI planning,” the lawsuit alleges. “Giordano rebuffed these two faculty members’ concerns, claiming that he needed team players to participate in this work and that Johnson, in his words, was not a ‘team player.’”

The lawsuit alleges that Giordano’s reluctance to include Johnson was a form of “code,” meant to exclude her.

“In fact,” the lawsuit says, “these terms are coded language used by the University’s leaders, including Giordano and Dutta, to demonstrate contempt for women like Johnson who show unwelcomed persistence in their work and advocacy.”

Interestingly, a later-date publication by the Detroit Free Press includes a Freedom of Information Act-retrieved letter from Giordano to Johnson. In it, Giordano explains—in far more detail than Johnson’s lawsuit—why the LGBTQ center’s head was facing discipline.

“Initially, it is important to note that my expectations for your performance are the same for you as all of my direct reports and is unrelated to your gender identity,” Giordano said, perhaps somewhat tellingly. “Most troubling are the concerns raised by your staff regarding your treatment of them.”

Giordano, says the Free Press, had purportedly raised concerns about Johnson’s performance in a December 2nd meeting. They included “continued performance concerns, unwillingness to take direction or accept a decision from supervision, communication misrepresentations or partial truths of situations. Concerns from CGS personnel expressing concerns you have created an unprofessional and unhealthy environment including yelling in front of others, talking negatively about supervisors and college colleagues, using inappropriate language and overall poor treatment of peer educators.”


She says U-M Flint fired her for pushing for LGBTQIA+ resources

U-M Flint: Center for Sexuality director fired for poor performance, not for raising concerns

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