University faces four lawsuits from former employees

By Courtney Klaus, Editor-In-Chief

Newman University is now facing four lawsuits by former employees, two of which were filed within the past month.

Of the two most recent, one was filed in federal court by former assistant professor of counseling John Walker, and the other was filed in Sedgwick County District Court by former assistant professor of social work Sue Ellen Gardner.

Walker’s lawsuit alleges that he was fired in retaliation for opposing discrimination and interference by Newman officials in Title IX investigations. The suit names as defendants both Newman and its provost, Kimberly McDowell Long.

The lawsuit was filed one month after Newman’s former director of human resources, Mandy Greenfield, also filed a federal lawsuit alleging retaliation.

In a statement issued by Newman officials this week, the university said that the allegations made by Walker were investigated, both before and after his termination in January 2018 and that the university determined that “there was no evidence to support his claim that Newman or any employee listed in the lawsuit as a defendant violated the law.”

“Mr. Walker’s claims are without merit,” the statement said. “All actions taken by the university in relation to his claims were made for legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory purposes.”

The statement said the university was compliant with the law at all times.  

Walker’s lawyers did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The suit says that Walker was a Title IX investigator and was assigned to investigate a complaint filed by former volleyball coach Destiny Clark against Athletic Director Vic Trilli, the basketball coaches and a student on Oct. 4, 2017.

Walker was also assigned to investigate a Title IX complaint alleging retaliation that was issued by former Dean of Students Levi Esses against Trilli in November 2017, the suit says.

While participating in the investigation, the suit says Walker was informed of additional alleged incidents of discrimination and retaliation that had not been reported or properly investigated.

After expressing concerns of retaliation, the suit says, Walker discovered confidential documents and emails pertaining to him spread about in public view near the printer in third floor McNeill Hall.

The suit says Walker complained of a hostile work environment to Human Resources the next day.

Three days later, the suit says, Walker discovered Trilli had confiscated knives from a prior assault and harassment complaint involving student athletes before police could talk to the alleged perpetrator.

On Nov. 21, 2017, the suit says, someone made an unauthorized entry into Walker’s office and evidence related to the Title IX investigation was missing, as well as an anonymous recording that was slid under Walker’s desk the week before.

Six days after the break in, the suit says, Walker was on the phone with Newman’s Board President Teresa Halls-Bartels to inform her of instances of retaliation, interference with investigations and an alleged threat from the athletic department that “snitches end up in ditches with stitches.”

That same day, the suit says, Walker contacted the Wichita Police Department about information he believed to be relevant to the investigation of a young woman’s death outside of a party hosted by members of the Newman baseball team in October 2017. He also shared with the WPD what he believed to be information about witness intimidation in regards to the investigation of the death, the suit says.

On Dec. 1, 2017, there was another unauthorized entry into Walker’s office and a file was missing, the suit says.  

On Jan. 4, 2018, the suit says, Walker received an email informing him that he was “no longer an active member of the teaching faculty” and a correspondence from a law firm saying that Walker was not to come on campus or to contact any faculty, staff or students.

The suit says that Long informed faculty and staff that Walker was “an active security threat” and to contact the police immediately if he was seen on campus. The suit says the university cancelled it’s Winter Institute and the campus was placed on heightened security lockdown between Jan. 4 and Jan. 10, 2018 because of concerns about the threat posed by Walker.

The lawsuit alleges that the information Long shared about Walker and the threat he posed were misleading and damaged his reputation.

Gardner’s suit was filed on Dec. 18, and alleges that her tenured employment was terminated in June of 2017 “without good cause” and she was escorted off campus.

Because Gardner was tenured, the lawsuit alleges, the university violated her employment contract by terminating her without notice or without being afforded a formal hearing as required by the Newman University Faculty Handbook. Gardner, who was hired in 2000 and tenured in 2009, is asking for damages in excess of $75,000.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Director of University Relations Clark Schafer said the university had not been formally served the petition filed by Gardner and therefore could not comment.

Two other lawsuits were filed against Newman in 2018. One is the suit Greenfield filed, and another was filed over the summer by former assistant professor of education Cindy Louthan.

That suit, filed in June 2018, said that Louthan, who had been an assistant professor at Newman since 2014, was discriminated against on the basis of her gender by Newman. The suit says that another faculty member “demonstrated an attitude of hostility toward women” and had outbursts against female faculty, greeted male but not female faculty and addressed Louthan as “Cindy” while calling others “doctor.”

In December of 2017, the suit said, Louthan assembled eight faculty members from Newman’s education department to discuss the alleged discrimination, and shortly after, she was notified that her contract would not be renewed. She’s also asking for damages in excess of $75,000.

Newman’s attorneys responded to Louthan’s suit in October, denying the allegations and saying that that Louthan had never filed charges with any federal or state agencies alleging discrimination. Shafer said this week that Newman had no further comment on the suit.

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