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Samir Bitar

Bitar

A former faculty member’s lawsuit against the University of Montana Faculty Association has been dismissed, but the instructor walked away with a settlement payment.

Samir Bitar, a lecturer in Arabic, sued the faculty union in September 2018, alleging that it had discriminated against him on account of his Arabic ethnicity and Islamic faith. But last month his lawsuit was dismissed, after attorneys agreed that Bitar would receive an undisclosed cash settlement.

“Our client was satisfied with the outcome,” said Bitar’s attorney, Quentin Rhoades, on Friday.

Bitar, originally from Palestine, had taught at UM from 1999 to 2018. He initially had alleged that in August 2015, UM offered him a one-semester contract, in violation of a union agreement to hire lecturers for a full academic year, and that the union declined to file a grievance about the matter. But in August 2017, when UM offered per-semester contracts to all lecturers, the faculty association immediately filed a grievance.

Bitar argued that by not filing a grievance over his 2015 contract, the Faculty Association had discriminated against him on the basis of ethnicity, national origin and religion. As required by Montana state law, he first brought this charge to the Montana Human Rights Bureau. But court documents state that Bitar never produced the contract at issue, and the Montana Human Rights Bureau found no basis for the charge.

Bitar then sued the association, again claiming that its handling of his 2015 contract amounted to discrimination. In the legal proceedings that followed, the union pointed out that this contract had actually been for the full academic year — as required by the collective bargaining agreement.

Bitar then acknowledged that “his complaint should have been for his 2016 work contract. He acknowledges no discrimination issue exists in relation to the 2015 contract and asserts that the incorrect date was a ‘scrivener’s error.’”

But the Faculty Association argued his claims in the lawsuit were limited to those pertaining to the 2015 contract and moved for summary judgment. Judge Robert Deschamps granted it on Oct. 22. The “Court holds that it has no jurisdiction to adjudicate Bitar’s claim that the discrimination occurred with respect to his 2016 work contract because he did not first pursue that issue before the (Human Rights Bureau),” he wrote.

The day before Judge Deschamps issued that order, Rhoades and attorney Karl Englund, representing the University Faculty Association, had signed an agreement to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning Bitar’s claims of discrimination against the association cannot be re-introduced. Judge Deschamps issued an order granting the dismissal Nov. 20.

Rhoades, an attorney with Rhoades, Siefert and Erickson PLLC, told the Missoulian that Bitar received an undisclosed amount as part of the settlement, and the agreement rules out claims related to both his 2015 and 2016 employment contracts.

Englund and University Faculty Association President Megan Stark could not be reached Friday for comment.

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