A former Florida Atlantic University associate dean fired over an embarrassing freedom of expression incident at the Boca Raton campus — which made national news and had the religious alt right in a frenzy — has lost her appeal of the dismissal of her lawsuit against the university.
The decision is expected to close the book on a controversy that FAU could have done without.
Rozalia Williams, a black woman close to retirement when she was canned, claimed racial, age and gender discrimination in her April 2013 firing after she suspended a student who wouldn't stomp on a piece of paper with the word Jesus on it as part of a classroom exercise.
Then-student Ryan Rotela refused to complete the multicultural studies exercise on religious grounds, and Williams suspended him from classes after he allegedly threatened his professor during a heated argument over the assignment.
Within hours, the quiet school became a symbol of an alleged leftist, anti-religion conspiracy in higher education, and for that Williams paid dearly.
She was fired within weeks, officially because she failed to follow the procedures in place to discipline Rotela, a commuting student from Coral Springs.
So in 2015, Williams sued the FAU Board of Trustees and then-Vice President For Student Affairs Charles Brown in a federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
In her complaint, Williams alleged her firing was the result of discrimination and retaliation. A part of her argument was that she was replaced by a white man five years younger.
Last year, U.S. District Darrin Gayles dismissed the lawsuit, saying that “her poor handling” of the Rotela incident, and nothing else, caused the dismissal.
Hollywood resident Williams, 64, filed an appeal to keep the case open. Last week, however, the federal appeals court decided Gayles acted property because Williams didn’t offer convincing evidence of discrimination.
“[Williams] was very firm and defiant in her belief she was discriminated against,” said Brown’s attorney, Christopher Whitelock. “But it was always clear she made a mistake suspending the kid without checking with her superiors. This caused the school a lot of adverse publicity. Either she panicked or simply didn’t know what she was doing, but her decision caused the school to become a media circus for a year.”
Neither Williams, who is now on the hook for nearly $15,000 in court costs, nor her lawyer returned calls for comment.
Said Whitelock: “It took five years, but this should end the controversy once and for all.”