Southern Utah State College is the target of a $1.35 million federal lawsuit filed by three long-time professors at the Cedar City school who claim age discrimination led to their firings.

Roger Chidester, 57; Jack L. Stokes, 51; and Paul Peterson, 62, were tenured professors when the college eliminated their jobs in the wake of state budget cutbacks in 1987, the U.S. District Court suit says.SUSC officials contend Gov. Norm Bangerter's mandate for budget reductions constituted a "bona fide discontinuance of a program," which allowed the college to dismiss the three without violating its tenure policy.

But the suit claims the college used the mandate as an excuse to terminate the three men and hire younger faculty members at lower salaries.

"These decisions are always difficult," SUSC President Gerald Sherratt said Friday. "It's not possible to address higher-education budget realities without having some impact on individuals.

The suit claims the college arranged the budget criteria so the professors' programs were "pre-targeted" for elimination. It also says the criteria used "an age-based factor."

The suit names the college, Sherratt and Provost Terry Alger as defendants.

The suit requests that the three be reinstated to their positions. Also, each of the professors is seeking $200,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.