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Lawsuit: Former regent alleges NSHE discriminated in hiring process

A former board of regents chairman sued the Nevada System of Higher Education alleging that the system did not hire him for a job he helped create while on the board.

James Leavitt, 61, applied for the position of chief of staff and special counsel when the public college and university system, which includes eight schools that serve about 100,000 students, posted an ad in July 2021.

The lawsuit, filed in District Court earlier this month, named 11 current or former regents and NSHE staff members, including former chancellor Melody Rose, who resigned last year.

Leavitt served 12 years on the board of regents, worked as adjunct faculty at UNLV and at the time had been a licensed attorney for 29 years.

“This institution is funded by taxpayers,” Leavitt said Monday. “The best and brightest people should be filling these positions at all levels of government.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal contacted all individuals named as defendants and received one statement from the Nevada System of Higher Education in response.

“NSHE does not comment on pending litigation matters, even to address misstatements of fact,” Associate General Counsel Lynda King said in an email. “All responses to Mr. Leavitt’s allegations will be through court submissions.”

As of Tuesday, court records showed no responses had been filed.

In 2009, Leavitt drafted the agenda item which created the position, according to the lawsuit, but after he applied for the job he was considered “not minimally qualified.”

The complaint alleged that Leavitt was not only minimally qualified but the most qualified of the list of publicly posted applicants.

“We feel that he was overly qualified,” Leavitt’s attorney Michael Balaban said Tuesday.

After two unsuccessful searches, Leavitt was deemed minimally qualified on the third search but not interviewed.

“This was a direct conspiratorial effort by the Nevada System of Higher Education to attempt to limit their liability by claiming Leavitt was now minimally qualified, but we simply won’t interview him,” the complaint read.

Balaban said Leavitt’s due process and equal protection rights were violated and that NSHE discriminated against him because of his age and because he suffers from multiple sclerosis.

The lawsuit also alleged retaliation, interference with economic advantage, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.

In October 2021, Leavitt’s then attorney Christian Gabroy sent a seven-page letter to NSHE officials demanding Leavitt be interviewed due to his qualifications.

“I’d be happy to work with NSHE,” Leavitt said. “I don’t think they want to work with me.”

Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com.

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