Students get six-figure settlement from University

Claims included civil rights, open meetings, public records

MILWAUKEE — Orders transmitted Wednesday by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals marked the formal end to a series of lawsuits filed by University of Wisconsin Milwaukee students over then-UWM Chancellor Michael Lovell’s refusal to accept the results of a student government election nine years ago. The last two former students who were part of those actions had agreed to settle their remaining claims against University officials in April, in exchange for a six-figure award.

The former students, M. Samir Siddique of Milwaukee and Taylor Q. Scott, who resides in southwest Wisconsin, were among about 40 students who filed an action in 2014 opposing the chancellor’s refusal to recognize student government elections in May 2013. The issue of whether Lovell acted legally was dismissed on procedural grounds in 2017 and not resolved on the merits. The cases now coming to an end mostly concern related claims which arose in the aftermath of that decision, such as whether Siddique and Scott’s civil rights were violated when the University attempted to discipline them for calling the interim student government appointed under Lovell “illegitimate” and attempting to form a new student government. The other cases still pending involved open meetings and public records claims, all but one of which were connected to the 2013 action.

UWM requested mediation after the students sought sanctions for UWM having destroyed public records sought in the litigation. The students contended that the records should have been retained as evidence and were deleted contrary to UWM’s record retention schedule under Wisconsin’s public records law.

UWM officials also apologized to Siddique and Scott and pledged reforms based on their recommendations, lifted all holds and ended all threats of discipline against Scott, and forgave an outstanding debt. Siddique’s discipline was ordered stayed and later reversed earlier in the course of legal actions against the university. Because of the lame duck legislation passed in 2018 limiting the authority of the State Department of Justice to settle cases without legislative approval, the terms of the formal agreement covered only the monetary award.

Attorney Gary Grass, who represented the students, sees the settlement as a vindication. “The terms of the settlement don’t include any admission of wrongdoing, but the fact that we could keep the fight alive all these years and obtain such a substantial settlement shows that there was a lot more substance to our claims than the university initially acknowledged. The officials who we started off against were dismissive. Those we settled with are mostly newer people who seem to treat our issues seriously. I look forward to seeing some of the issues being positively addressed.”

Siddique was allowed to graduate UWM and is now an attorney practicing in Milwaukee. Scott helped found and is an editor of Valley Sentinel, an independent news publication serving the area around Spring Green. Grass also practices law in Milwaukee.

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