Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Yet More on the Katehi Affair
Katehi’s team files a grievance, sets stage for a lawsuit
By Tanya Perez | June 8, 2016 | Davis Press-Enterprise
A confidential grievance filed by UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi’s attorney, Melinda Guzman, appears to be laying the groundwork for a potential lawsuit against the University of California and UC President Janet Napolitano.
The grievance, dated May 26 and obtained Monday by The Enterprise, was sent to Charles Robinson, general counsel for the UC Office of the President. It serves as a formal complaint by Katehi for breach of contract, violation of privacy rights and defamation, violation of confidentiality rights, retaliation, constructive termination and discrimination due to gender.
The 12-page document lays out the issues and timelines that led to Katehi being placed on paid administrative leave on April 27.
A major theme of the grievance is that Katehi’s reputation has been damaged by the sharing of what Guzman calls a “confidential” two-page letter from Napolitano concerning the personnel action, which was sent to media outlets. Guzman said the distribution of the letter was reckless and intended to cause Katehi personal harm.
Guzman also alleges that Katehi’s ability to apply for or be offered comparable employment has been damaged due to the nature of her separation from UCD.
“The outrageous disclosure of information will undoubtedly be construed as a termination and always (call) into question her integrity and ethics,” Guzman wrote.
This disclosure of information was addressed by Napolitano’s chief of staff, Seth Grossman, who responded to questions from UCD’s Academic Senate chariman, André Knoesen. UCOP did not proactively release the letter, Grossman said, but did so after it was requested by media outlets, and after the balance of disclosure for the public’s interest was thought to be more pressing than Katehi’s interest in non-disclosure.
Guzman further asserted that aside from the damages to Katehi’s professional reputation and potential future earnings, she also has suffered from loss of sleep, panic attacks and depression associated with “the very shocking demand that she resign,” and the public way in which it was done.
Add to that the worry that her husband Spyros Tseregounis, son Erik Tseregounis and daughter-in-law Emily Prieto-Tseregounis also will suffer damage to their professional reputations, having been “slandered by the disclosure of incomplete, inaccurate information,” Guzman wrote.
Thus far, the UCD Academic Senate has determined, following its own investigation, that one of the concerning issues mentioned in Napolitano’s letter — that Tseregounis reports to his wife, Prieto-Tseregounis — is not the case.
Much of the grievance centers on the alleged improper way that Katehi was placed on administrative leave.
Guzman states that on Monday, April 25, Katehi was summoned to Napolitano’s office in Oakland, where the president “immediately demanded Chancellor Katehi’s resignation from the university, with no explanation.”
During this meeting, Guzman wrote, Napolitano threatened Katehi, telling her that she would involve Chancellor Katehi’s family in an investigation if Katehi did not resign.
UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein disputed this Tuesday, saying, “Under no circumstances did the president issue threats related to Katehi’s family members or threats of any kind.”
The grievance alleges that Katehi urged Napolitano to explain why she was being told to resign but was given no reason, which is why Katehi refused. By the next morning, Guzman called deputy general counsel Allison Woodall in Robinson’s office to say Katehi would not be resigning, and a meeting to determine Katehi’s future with UC was agreed upon for Thursday, April 28.
Instead, Guzman wrote, Woodall called on April 27 to say Katehi was being placed on administrative leave, based on the chancellor having discussed the Napolitano meeting with UCD faculty and staff, thus calling into question Katehi’s intentions. The meeting for April 28 was canceled.
Klein pointed out that “Linda Katehi is an ‘at will’ employee who reports directly to the president in her role as UC Davis chancellor. As such, the president has followed the appropriate procedures in regard to placing Chancellor Katehi on paid leave. In fact, as an at-will employee, Chancellor Katehi has been afforded more process than would normally be the case.”
Katehi’s hiring contract specifies that she is, in fact, at at-will employee, and that if she were terminated other than for cause, she could exercise the retreat rights back to her academic department, electrical and computer engineering. But the contract specifies that if she were terminated for cause, UC could institute disciplinary or dismissal proceeding from university employment “pursuant to personnel policies applicable to members of the Academic Senate.”
The grievance also claims disparate, discriminatory treatment, saying that other UC chancellors, all men, “received favorable treatment when transitioning from their roles” and received “soft landings.”
Men also were treated less harshly regarding paid board positions, according to Guzman’s letter, and “Chancellor Katehi is the only individual who was forced to donate money from her service on a corporate board to the university.”
Katehi mentioned in several public appearances earlier this spring that she was giving $200,000 of the money earned from serving on the board of John Wiley & Sons for UCD scholarships.
Klein responded, “The allegation by Katehi’s attorney that the chancellor was forced to donate money from her board service is completely false.”
Additionally, Guzman has called for appointed investigator Melinda Haag, an attorney for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, to be replaced, saying she is not neutral or independent, since she has represented UC in other matters.
Guzman also said that Haag has represented Napolitano in legal matters while Napolitano was secretary of homeland security and Haag was a U.S. attorney. Klein denies that Haag has ever represented Napolitano.
“The president ordered an outside, independent investigation in an effort to be as transparent as possible,” Klein said. “And, frankly, that’s why I find the chancellor’s refusal to cooperate with an objective investigation that seeks the truth to be especially baffling. The investigators are gathering facts and documentation of those facts.”