Monday, May 23, 2022

Former W&M professor settles discrimination lawsuit against university

David Dessler, a former government professor who worked at the university for 32 years, has dismissed a lawsuit against William & Mary and Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nathan Green. (File photo/WYDaily)
David Dessler, a former government professor who worked at the university for 32 years, has dismissed a lawsuit against William & Mary and Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nathan Green. (File photo/WYDaily)

A former professor has reached a settlement with William & Mary several months after filing a discrimination lawsuit.

After finalizing a settlement earlier this month, David Dessler, a former government professor who worked at the university for 32 years, has dismissed a lawsuit against William & Mary and Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nathan Green.

The suit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning the case cannot be brought back to court, on Monday, according to documents filed in federal court.

In the settlement, the college also denies any wrongdoing and does not admit to any guilt.

The lawsuit alleged the college “silenced” Dessler when he attempted to speak out about student mental health during the fall 2015 semester.

Dessler’s complaint stated William & Mary used its campus police department to control his communication and movement by arresting him five times over a yearlong period.

Dessler was arrested on four charges of harassment by computer and one failure to appear between February 2016 and January 2017, according to court records. The arrests occurred while Dessler was on medical leave from the college and was barred from contacting college officials.

The suit also alleged four other constitutional and civil violations, saying the college:

  • Failed to provide “reasonable accommodation” for Dessler’s disability (a “long-standing” diagnosis of depression) under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Took “adverse employment actions” against Dessler because of his disability
  • Did not hold a due-process hearing – a right all tenured professors have – before terminating Dessler’s employment
  • Violated Dessler’s First Amendment rights by banning him from campus and preventing him from speaking with faculty and students.

William & Mary spokeswoman Suzanne Seurattan said the settlement resolves “all of Dr. Dessler’s legal claims against the university and its employees.”

David Dessler, 62, poses for a photo at a James City County restaurant on Dec. 5, 2017. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)
David Dessler, 62, poses for a photo at a James City County restaurant on Dec. 5, 2017. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)

The settlement states Dessler releases the university and the Commonwealth of Virginia from all liabilities, claims, actions, demands, damages and costs of “every nature.”

The settlement includes the signatures of Dessler, two witnesses, a notary public and William & Mary President Taylor Reveley.

“I am happy to have reached a resolution with the university, and I consider this matter closed. I wish everyone at the College well,” Dessler said Monday.

In a prepared university statement, Seurattan said: “This matter has been a long, complex and draining. The university has acted appropriately and compassionately from the beginning with Dr. Dessler.…Taking this matter to trial would have entailed significant emotional costs for our employees as well as financial costs for the university. It was time for closure.”

Seurattan also added the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a dismissal and right to sue letter on Sept. 28, 2017, after Dessler filed a charge of discrimination. The EEOC stated it was “unable to establish violations of the statute” in the matter.

“The University vigorously denies the claims and does not admit the validity of the legal or factual positions asserted by the [lawsuit], and nothing contained herein shall be deemed an admission against interest,” the settlement states.

Dessler’s attorney, Shannon Beebe, declined to comment for this story.


Fearing can sarah.f@localvoicemedia.com.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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