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Employee's suit alleges WMU ignored noose incident

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A Black former employee at Western Michigan University is suing the school, alleging another staff member tried to pull a noose over his head in 2017 and that the university failed to discipline the official.

Smith Moore, an African American who is WMU's director of event services and catering, alleges that the school's assistant director of operations, who is white, hung a noose behind his head during a diversity and inclusion meeting.

Moore said in his lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, that he was seated at a table at the front of the room on Aug. 25, 2017, when Mitchell Beare hung a looped rope behind his head "with the intent of pulling it over his head and around his neck — which is historically an act of lynching a black man."

 Moore alleges that Beare "repeatedly act(ed) in racist, discriminatory, and demeaning ways toward African American students and other students of color."

Moore contends that during events sponsored for or by African American student groups, Beare would complain about the scheduling and refer to the students in a derogatory manner as “those groups” and referred to Asian students as "crazy Asians."

Beare, according to the lawsuit, characterized and categorized campus events as high-risk or low-risk based on race and "would repeatedly single out and profile African American students and events as 'problems'" and failed to provide adequate staffing. 

When reached Friday by phone, Moore said, "You can put no comment." 

Paula Davis, a spokeswoman for WMU, said Friday: "The University does not comment on pending litigation. But I can affirm that the behavior described does not align with WMU values."

Moore said he made complaints to school officials about Beare and that Beare was not disciplined but was sent to diversity training.

"WMU did not follow up on their recommendation and it is believed that Beare never voluntarily participated in training," according to the lawsuit. "When Beare was finally required to attend a diversity and inclusion training initiative for faculty and staff, he took that occasion to further retaliate against Plaintiff Moore in a very public setting."

Moore's lawsuit alleges that during the university's investigation into the complaints against Beare, witnesses described him as "angry, losing his temper often, throwing things, yelling, kicking objects, hitting walls, and having frequent discussions about his guns and his gun rights."

Beare was allowed to retire from WMU in September 2017, a month before an investigation concluded that  "there was sufficient evidence to support a finding for racial discrimination and that Mitchell Beare had violated the University Non-Discrimination Policy," according to the lawsuit.

In his lawsuit, Moore says he has "suffered trauma and the lasting effects of being subjected to ongoing racial discrimination and harassment."

"Beare’s actions were bold, egregious, horrific, racially charged, discriminatory, and created a hostile work environment," the suit says.

Moore's lawsuit alleges WMU officials "failed to adequately investigate and take prompt and/or appropriate remedial action."