*This post is part of a series on Isaac v. Duke, a federal complaint filed with OFCCP.

After the Spring 2013 semester, Logan Isaac was alerted to the Veterans Integration To Academic Leadership (VITAL) program, which creates partnerships between VA medical centers and universities, but has no presence in NC. He spoke to the Acting National Director of the program by phone on April 19. Joining them on the call was the suicide prevention coordinator at the Durham VAMC, and an outreach specialist from the Raleigh vet center.

In January 2014, the possibility of a paid position opening up within the Durham VA  had grown directly from the conversation the prior April. Anticipating possible employment, Isaac spent several hours compiling data and anecdotal evidence to support an application and illustrate the need for better coordination between the VA and Duke University. The six page document he created, titled “DUKE VETERANS Issues and Proposals,” was shared with VA principals, but the position did not coalesce.

There are two columns throughout the document, one that describes the “Issue” that veterans at Duke faced, based on Isaac’s own experience and the experiences relayed to him by other veterans. All 24 Issues he identified had a corresponding Proposal recommended based on the his experience at Duke. There were four sections to the document, roughly corresponding to administrative areas;

  • Health Care
  • Registration & Financial Aide
  • Information Systems
  • Student Life & Community Affairs

In six different individual Proposals, across four sections, Isaac recommended the establishment of a “paid staff position” to coordinate efforts and effectively engage with and increase cultural sensitivity to veterans, but no action was taken.

In May 2016, after a discussion with Duke’s Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), he was sent an unsolicited email requesting information about the document’s authors and requesting permission “to share with Duke staff.” Isaac responded that he had created it himself, and that it was not complete, because he lacked adequate funding to finish compiling the input from various veterans at Duke. He also stated that the document was created in relation to an employment opportunity, and that

If its use leads to generating funding of any kind, I have to insist I be compensated for the work that went into creating it, as it represents intellectual property and manual labor which has quantifiable value

According to the United States Copyright Office, “work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” Isaac’s work, in the form of population research and expert recommendations made based upon his extensive experience as a veteran and consultant, was “created and fixed” as early as 2014.

Furthermore, he stated in writing that its use was not unrestricted; if money was awarded as a result of his recommendations, then he would require proper compensation. OIE did not object following this email exchange. On May 17, 2016, at 1:13pm, the representative replied “I understand.”

On December 14, 2016, Isaac learned from a student veteran that the recommendation that a paid position be created had in fact been adopted by the Student Affairs office at Duke. Student Affairs had received the document from OIE seven months prior. Isaac wrote to OIE to confirm, which responded five days later, saying “the fact you have not been contacted should not be taken personally by you.” An Assistant Vice President for Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity replied;

With regard to your prior advocacy for the creation of paid staff positions dedicated to serving veterans at Duke, your input is of course welcome.  The creation of this graduate assistant position, however, arose out of the natural process of evaluating Student Affairs initiatives.  Hopefully you will view this as a positive sign of Duke’s ongoing commitment to student veterans.

However, the terms to which OIE had agreed were violated, resulting in his intellectual property being infringed by the university. Two days later, Isaac replied (the full email is preserved here);

Thank you for getting back to me. You seem to have misunderstood me, however. I did not expect to be contacted about applying for the position, nor do I have any way of taking “it” other than personally, because I am a person, after all. To be clear, my ‘personal’ reaction does not derive from not receiving the job posting. My concern derives from my work being exploited in order to improve university programming too little, too late, which I fear will be one more bandaid solution which leaves all too many underlying issues completely unaddressed. My reaction also derives from the long history Duke has of stifling contrasting voices, discriminating against protected veterans, and tolerating hostile environments.

On May 17th, you solicited this document from me. You also mentioned Student Affairs as being somehow related to the timing which framed your request. In my reply, I told you this document represented work of mine for which I requested compensation if used or if it led to new funding. I requested this because workers should be paid for their time and labor. You are also fully aware that I am a protected veteran. As I said more recently, [name redacted]’s non communication begins to appear retaliatory, or at least exploitative.

Retaliatory:

I identified myself as a community stake holder in how Duke treats veterans as a student, alumnus, and as a local resident. [Student Affairs staff] ceased communicating with me in 2013 even after convening a meetings in which he told several Duke and non Duke stake holders he would continue the meetings every semester. I can name four witnesses to that statement, which was made in April 2013. I never received any further communication about any meetings, though [name redacted] would have known I am invested in working for veterans. He ceased communicating with me that same year, and I never received word of further meetings, which were supposed to be held every semester. It is fine… to not like my input, but for any administrator at Duke to exclude me from any and all deliberations about veterans at the third largest employer in NC is neither necessary nor reasonable. I also will be asking the Department of Justice, and other relevant agencies, to investigate whether this exclusionary and selective treatment interferes with or limits my ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or privileges extended to other alumni, employees, or local stake holders.

Exploitative:

You personally asked for my work and your office then shared it internally without any communication with me thereafter. If you or [name redacted] did not like my input, agreeing with one or more of my recommendations while simultaneously excluding me from any and all deliberations is contradictory at the least. It also makes it look as though Duke is making use of and/or deriving benefit from me (the definition of exploitation), for the purpose of improving its programming and institutional reputation, improvements which I have called for several years in a row now. Calling this a “natural” process begs for definition, because it otherwise appears that these changes are only being implemented because of my speaking up for myself and other veterans. However, Duke’s refusal to be genuinely collaborative is forcing the issue to federal agencies, which is more likely to negatively affect my professional development, in the midst of a growing family, than it is to affect Duke in any substantive way.

Student Affairs could have created this position ‘naturally’ at any time since the passage of VEVRAA in the 1970’s, including the semester in which I advocated for it in 2013. But it was not created until a few months after you requested this document from me and shared it with Student Affairs. Material which I identified as intellectual property was solicited and then used without any apparent effort to communicate with me or recognize my contribution thereto. I suspect DoL can find out more precisely when [student affairs] began shaping the job posting, and if it began in the late spring, that would represent direct evidence that my input was incorporated after being explicitly solicited by you; either as the impetus for creating the position, or as a direct and solicited contribution to its development.

I cannot applaud any selective and arbitrary “commitment” to student veterans because I myself was a student veteran, and Duke’s “commitment” to me as a student, an alumnus, and as an employee has been incompetent, unprofessional, and discriminatory. I will not applaud harassment, bias, or discrimination against myself or any veteran.

OIE did not reply to this email. The last Isaac ever received from them was an insistence that he “view this as a positive sign of Duke’s ongoing commitment to student veterans.”

In a January 24, 2017 call with the OFCCP investigator representing the Department of Labor, Isaac learned that university general counsel had provided false information to a federal agency. The compliance officer asked Isaac to explain why he had denied an offer of employment for the position in question. Isaac forwarded the above discussed correspondence to the person to prove that the accusation by the office of Duke counsel was entirely false. Isaac has not received compensation either for his intellectual property or his labor.

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