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A historically black college in South Carolina has been sued after three white faculty members say they were passed over for jobs or let go for because of their race, federal officials announced Wednesday.

Alleging that Benedict College “engaged in unlawful practices,” the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also said that the Columbia school had agreed to pay $55,000 to each of the three former instructors.

Under a settlement reached between Benedict and the EEOC, the school also agreed to remind staff about its employment policy prohibiting discrimination, provide administrators, faculty and staff with training and make periodic reports to the EEOC.

In its complaint, the EEOC says art instructor Argiri Aggelopoulou in December 2004 applied for but did not receive a position as assistant art history professor, adding she was instead passed over in favor of a black instructor.

In March 2005, Benedict did not renew teaching contracts for Aggelopoulou and two other instructors – assistant art professor Michael Hale and Katherine Mille, an associate English professor -because of their race, the complaint says.

In a response also filed Wednesday, an attorney for Benedict denied any allegations of discrimination and said the school acted in good faith and treated the employees fairly.

Aggelopoulou was rejected because she was not qualified for the professor job, and her contract wasn’t renewed because she was only hired for a one-year position, attorney Carol Ervin wrote.

Hale’s contract was not renewed because, after seven years of employment, he had failed to attain tenure – a timeframe under which school policy allowed Benedict to let him go. And Katherine Mille, a linguist, was released in part because the school could not afford to pay both her and another, more senior person with the same position, Ervin wrote.

“The College further responds that it embraces diversity and opposes discrimination,” attorney Carol Ervin wrote, citing part of the school’s mission statement, which states “Benedict College is an equal opportunity educational institution. We seek geographic, international, and racial diversity in our student body.”

Aggelopoulou and Mille did not immediately return phone messages, and a listing for Hale could not be found. A spokeswoman for the school did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

In a statement, Ervin said Benedict opposes all discrimination and noted that it costs the school less to pay the former employees rather than defend the claims.

“The College specifically denies the claims of discrimination raised by the three faculty members in question,” Ervin said. “The non-renewal decisions were made in the context of a recommendation for curriculum change, reallocation of resources and in light of the needs of the separate departments where each faculty member worked.”

According to its Web site, Benedict is a private, coed liberal arts school with more than 2,500 students with a “continued commitment to facilitate the empowerment, enhancement, and full participation of African-Americans in American society.”

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