Former Penn State professor sues school alleging discrimination, misuse of funds and more

Abby Drey/

A former Penn State assistant research professor filed a wide-ranging federal lawsuit Friday against the university and five workers that alleged everything from gender discrimination and misuse of public funds to retaliation and wrongful termination.

The lawsuit, Michael Q. Nassry’s attorneys wrote in the 51-page filing, stems from the unwanted romantic advances of an older female co-worker, plagiarism and retaliation for whistle-blowing.

A Penn State spokesperson declined comment Tuesday.

“During his tenure at Penn State, Dr. Nassry accumulated extensive favorable work appraisals, and was in fact repeatedly singled out for praise and distinction for his service, earning him steady salary increases over the years until he was discriminated and retaliated against,” attorney Arthur D. Goldman wrote. “... Dr. Nassry was the victim of persistent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the basis of his gender and his whistle-blowing activities.”

Nassry alleged he was harassed for years by his former co-worker after he rejected her offer to “go out to dinner” and blocked her phone number because of unnecessary and unwanted calls and text messages. He reported the allegations to the university’s Office of Ethics and Compliance, his attorney wrote.

The women then disparaged Nassry to colleagues, prompting him to stop participating in professional conferences and workshops, the lawsuit alleged.

Parallel to what Nassry described as sexual harassment was alleged plagiarism carried out by his supervisor and a former graduate student. The university’s Office of Research Protection, Nassry’s attorneys wrote, told him they would not investigate his claims because they believed his supervisor had “implied consent” to publish his work because of their prior collaborations.

Nassry, who in 2018 served as the primary investigator for a project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, also alleged some of the funds were being directed to support his supervisor’s salary.

Nassry resigned in 2021 as a “direct result” of repeated plagiarism, harassment, threats and retaliation. He’s seeking a return to Penn State in a comparable position, plus unspecified monetary damages.

“The complaint speaks for itself and what’s not coming out is his incredibly professional, articulate and evenhanded demeanor and his credibility, which is impeccable,” Goldman said. “Anybody that talks to him even for five minutes is going to know immediately that he’s a totally believable person that suffered an injustice, which has harmed his extremely promising career.”