The founder of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking, Karen Countryman-Roswurm, filed a federal complaint on Monday
against Wichita State University and several administrators citing “years of harassment, discrimination and retaliation”.
The 115-page lawsuit details allegations by male colleagues in the social work department spreading lies that she traded sexual favors for promotion to college, and administrators disregarding college policy regarding discrimination and harassment. The lawsuit also claims she received negative statements regarding her Native American heritage and faced retaliation from the university when the cases were reported, among other allegations.
When asked about the trial on Wednesday afternoon, President Rick Muma made no comment.
Countryman-Roswurm, associate professor of social work, spoke about his experiences in January 2020 during his opening address at a local conference on the fight against human trafficking. The harassment reportedly started in 2013, when she was an assistant professor, and has continued to this day.
The lawsuit accuses Fred Besthorn, a social work professor, of defamation, alleging that false statements made by him caused prejudice to Countryman-Roswurm, including his dismissal as executive director of the Center for Combatting Human Trafficking.
Besthorn reportedly suggested that Countryman-Roswurm had sex with dean-level administrators to progress through the school, saying “Native women are known to exchange sex to get what they want.”
The lawsuit clarifies that Countryman-Roswurm frequently reported the harassment to the then dean of liberal arts and sciences, Ron Matson, who suggested that he not report the cases as it could affect his work and his application for tenure.
Fellow-Roswurm individually sued University President Rick Muma, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences Andrew Hippisley, School of Social Work Principal Kyoung Lee and Vice President of Strategic Engagement and planning Kaye Monk-Morgan. The lawsuit says all parties were aware of the discrimination, harassment and retaliation, but took no action, citing “wrong motive or reckless indifference.”
Andrew Hippisley reportedly told Countryman-Roswurm in 2018 that she was lucky to have her job and her salary “as a woman” and that she should stop complaining about discrimination and harassment.
The lawsuit also claims that Muma, who was the provost at the time, encouraged Countryman-Roswurm not to act on any of his complaints. He would have told her that it would be better for her to “let go”.
Countryman-Roswurm has worked at the university since 2010.
“Wichita State University recently learned of the lawsuit filed by current employee Karen Countryman-Roswurm,” a spokesperson for the university said in an email to The Sunflower. “The university is committed to preventing and eliminating misconduct, including all forms of discrimination, harassment and retaliation, within the university community. In support of this commitment, the university maintains and relies on a strong system of resources, policies and procedures.
“We are investigating the allegations and preparing to vigorously defend the case.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the anti-trafficking conference was in February 2020. It actually took place in January 2020. This side of the story reflects these changes.