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Interim director of MSU's Native American Institute sues over sexual harassment, discrimination

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Posted at 10:08 PM, Feb 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 11:01:01-05

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The interim director of the Michigan State University Native American Institute is suing the university for what she describes as years of sexual harassment.

"The institution failed me. It completely failed me," said interim Director Christie Poitra.

Poitra has been with MSU for a long time, earning her doctoral degree from the university before becoming an employee in 2016.

She said harassment from her supervisor, John Norder, started immediately.

"My supervisor had shared his fetishes with me. He was into bondage. He told me details about his sex life with his wife," Poitra said.

That is only a snippet of what she shared with Fox 47 News.

"In August of 2018, that Christie confided in a colleague about what was going on. And that colleague initially reported it to MSU, to the Office of Institutional Equity, they then reached out to her and she decided to move forward with the reporting process," said Liz Abnour, Poitra's attorney.

They filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights regarding her concerns.

"They transferred the investigation to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And then that investigation hadn't been completed within 180 days. So we requested what's called the right to sue letter because at that point, additional concerns had arisen regarding discrimination and harassment by other individuals as well as retaliation," Abdnour said.

Poitra believes the retaliation was being underpaid, receiving fewer resources, and being forced to clean out Norder's desk drawer, including removing sexual lubricants, when he he was removed from his office.

MSU's Office for Institutional Equity eventually completed an investigation, determining that Norder had violated the school's sexual misconduct policy. It took more than 500 days.

Norder who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, is still employed by the university as a professor.

Abdnour didn't say how much money they were seeking, but they are looking for significant compensation for the years of severe emotional distress and the years of underpayment.

"This is a sort of broader systemic problem that has to be addressed. And my hope through this is to seek accountability and change for the institution," Poitra said.

University Spokesperson, Dan Olsen said he couldn't comment on pending litigation. He was only able to add that, "the university transitioned the Native American institute from the college it was previously in to the office of the provost with the university's Office of Outreach and Engagement."

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