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Former College President Jan Cervelli files civil suit against Saint Mary’s

| Thursday, March 14, 2019

Former College President Jan Cervelli filed a civil lawsuit against Saint Mary’s on Tuesday, alleging members of the Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees pressured her to resign and did not honor their settlement agreement with her.

According to the complaint filed in the St. Joseph County Superior Court, Cervelli is suing the College on counts of breach of contract, declaration of rights and injunction, violation of Indiana’s Wage Payment Statute and breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing. Cervelli is requesting compensation for damages resulting from the College’s breach of contract and a declaration of her rights pursuant to her contracts, the complaint said.

The complaint details the events leading to Cervelli’s resignation and asserts Saint Mary’s has not honored the terms of her employment agreement. The suit also revealed Cervelli and Saint Mary’s entered into a settlement agreement at the time of her resignation.

Observer File Photo

Jan Cervelli, pictured, resigned as Saint Mary’s President on Oct. 5. Tuesday, Cervelli filed a lawsuit against the College claiming she was pressured to resign and the Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees did not honor its settlement agreement with her.

The lawsuit claims that Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees chair Mary Burke pressured Cervelli to resign and that the College has not honored its settlement agreement, which stated Cervelli would receive status as a tenured professor and adequate pay and benefits in lieu of her resignation, with the possibility of a buy-out of her position.

The Board of Trustees said in a statement Thursday that the Board has fulfilled its end of the settlement agreement with Cervelli.

“The Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees is aware of, but not surprised by, the complaint that has been filed by former president Janice Cervelli,” Burke said in the statement. “We obviously disagree with the allegations raised by Ms. Cervelli’s lawyers, their descriptions of the agreements and their account of the facts. The Trustees have honored all of its agreements with Ms. Cervelli and has fulfilled all of its obligations to Ms. Cervelli as a tenured member of Saint Mary’s College faculty.”

In the statement, Burke said the Board will “file a written response to the allegations with the appropriate court in due course,” and looks forward to resolving the dispute.

According to the filed complaint, Cervelli claims Burke came to her around Sept. 30 with an “undated and unsigned” separation agreement calling for Cervelli’s immediate resignation. Burke required Cervelli to accept the resignation agreement by Oct. 5, or, according to the complaint, the Board would have terminated Cervelli without cause. In the complaint, Cervelli also claimed she had no indication of a desire for her resignation before being asked by Burke.

During the Sept. 30 meeting, the suit alleges, Burke told Cervelli to not report to work and to tell everyone that she was on sick leave, which, according to the suit, was not true. The complaint also asserts Burke suggested Cervelli lie and attribute her resignation to caring for her mother.

Burke said the College will not comment regarding specifics of Cervelli’s resignation.

“As a matter of employee confidentiality and in accordance with Ms. Cervelli’s contract with the College, we will continue to refrain from commenting on the specifics involving her departure from the College,” Burke said.

In her count alleging breach of contract, Cervelli argues Saint Mary’s has neglected their obligations set in the settlement agreement regarding her position as a tenured faculty member, her right to compensation and employment benefits, her right to reinstatement to faculty and her right to severance payments.

Cervelli and the College entered into a settlement agreement where both parties agreed that Cervelli would “continue her position as tenured member of the faculty” and would be paid “in an amount equal to the highest paid professor at Saint Mary’s.” The agreement also stated the College would “pay Cervelli certain severance pay and benefits for twelve months, beginning Jan. 1, 2019.”

On Jan. 31, according to the lawsuit, Cervelli’s counsel sent a letter to the College demanding payment for the unpaid wages. The lawsuit claims that to date, Saint Mary’s has not paid Cervelli the unpaid wages.

Cervelli is petitioning for tenure, all compensation and employment benefits, and is requesting that the court either orders her reinstatement to the Saint Mary’s faculty where she can continue her employment until her resignation or retirement, or continued severance payments under the settlement agreement.

Cervelli is also suing the College for breaching its duty of good faith and fair dealing for three reasons: the College‘s failure to pay her salary, refusal to recognize her position as tenured faculty and attempts to prevent Cervelli from disclosing her position as tenured faculty, according to the complaint. 

The lawsuit is currently pending.

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