UMKC pays thousands to pharmacy professor who said his boss used students as servants

The University of Missouri-Kansas City will pay $360,000 to a professor to settle lawsuits that prompted the investigations into and eventual ouster of two top professors in its pharmacy school.

Mridul Mukherji, an associate professor of pharmacy, had filed two lawsuits alleging employment discrimination and work harassment — one in 2016 and one in 2018.

The Board of Curators of the University of Missouri reached a settlement with Mukherji two weeks before a scheduled trial in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Gerald Gray, the attorney representing Mukherji, said he could not discuss the terms of the settlement, but said that Mukherji is “happy with the outcome and that he retained his job at UMKC.”

Mukherji, who lives in Lenexa, claimed he had been retaliated against after complaining that his former boss Ashim Mitra engaged in a pattern of abusive behavior against him and others who reported Mitra to school officials. The suits also claim that Mitra mistreated vulnerable foreign students and that university officials then retaliated against Mukherji when he complained.

The suits named Mitra; the board of curators; Russell Melchert, the pharmacy school dean; and Denis Medeiros, who at the time was UMKC vice provost but is now retired.

Mridul Mukherji, a UMKC associate professor of pharmacy, claimed he was retaliated against for saying a professor had treated grad students as servants. UMKC

At the time, Mitra chaired the pharmacy school’s pharmaceutical sciences division. He was suspended with pay in November, following a Kansas City Star investigative report that revealed he had used foreign graduate students as personal servants, requiring them to, for example, house sit, clean and serve food at social functions.

Before filing suit, Mukherji informed Star reporters about goings-on at the pharmacy school. To verify his claims that graduate students had been working as Mitra’s servants, The Star interviewed dozens of students and faculty, listened to secret recordings, viewed photos and read the minutes from meetings of a Bengali cultural organization.

Three months after his suspension, the university sued Mitra for allegedly stealing a student’s research and secretly selling it to a pharmaceutical company, defrauding the university of millions of dollars.

The professor resigned days before he was scheduled to appear at a university hearing.

Ashim Mitra 20190123 KAM 1F4.jpeg
Former UMKC professor Ashim Mitra. Keith Myers The Kansas City Star

Last Friday UMKC fired a second top pharmacy school professor, Anil Kumar. Kumar, until last year, had chaired the school’s pharmacology division. He was terminated following a rigorous process that included a recommendation by a 10-member faculty committee.

The university declined to give details about what led to Kumar’s review, citing privacy laws that impact personnel matters.

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Mike Hendricks is a member of The Star’s investigations and watchdog reporting team. Send tips and story ideas in confidence by email to mhendricks@kcstar.com, Twitter direct message @kcmikehendricks, or anonymously via Signal encrypted message at 816-234-4738
Mará has written on all things education for The Star for 20 years, including issues of school safety, teen suicide, universal pre-K programs, college costs, campus protests and university branding.