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University of Montana campus

A second gender discrimination case is unfolding against the University of Montana in Missoula County District Court.

In July, former UM Dining employee Rebecca "Becca" Shern filed a complaint against UM alleging gender discrimination and negligent supervision, accusations that came a couple of months after another former staff member in the same department filed a similar lawsuit.

Shern, who was employed at UM from 2007 to 2016, alleged that former UM Dining Director Mark LoParco created a hostile work environment, failed to pay her a fair wage and unfairly demoted her. The court filing said "UM management" was aware of the treatment Shern was receiving and caused her injuries.

"UM knew, or in the exercise of ordinary care should have known, of LoParco's unfitness at the time he engaged in wrongful conduct," the complaint said.

LoParco retired in May after 25 years as head of UM Dining and had been honored on campus for his work in sustainability and also by a national association for his leadership in the collegiate food industry.

In its answer, UM denies it subjected Shern to discriminatory conduct or that it created a hostile work environment. UM also argues Shern's injuries or losses, "if any, are not as severe as alleged," and it places some responsibility for her claims on her own shoulders.

"Plaintiff's claims are offset or barred by her failure to take reasonable care to minimize or otherwise mitigate her damages, if any," UM said in a court document.

The Montana Human Rights Bureau dismissed a discrimination complaint filed against UM and LoParco earlier this year. However, it did not rule on the merits, but determined Shern had filed the complaint too late. UM also argues Shern's claims are "barred by the statue of limitations."

In the complaint with the Bureau, Shern and former UM Dining employee Kathleen "Kate" Slack alleged LoParco, their ultimate supervisor, bullied and belittled them and other women, subjected them to misogynistic and sexist treatment, and unfairly promoted and compensated men while denying advancement to women.

In May, Slack filed a case in Missoula County District Court naming UM and LoParco as defendants. 

In the subsequent discrimination case, Shern named only UM as defendant. The most recent scheduling order sets April 6 as the deadline for discovery and Aug. 10 as the deadline for parties to file a joint pretrial order, although the schedule is subject to further amendment.

The parties may settle out of court. If the case goes to trial, it likely won't take place before August 2018.

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.