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Saint Mary’s files counterclaim, Cervelli responds

| Monday, April 29, 2019

The College filed a counterclaim response March 22 to former College President Jan Cervelli’s March 12 lawsuit. Cervelli filed a response to their counterclaims April 4.

The College’s response to the initial complaint addresses each of the points made by Cervelli and her legal team. In a statement provided by assistant director of integrated communications Haleigh Ehmsen, the College discussed its filing and philosophy going forward with the case. (Editor’s note: Ehmsen is a former Saint Mary’s Editor of The Observer.)

“We strongly believe that our legal filing speaks for itself,” Ehmsen said. “This case is about tenure, and as is Saint Mary’s policy and practice, we are working with Ms. Cervelli to get her classes approved so that she can teach. We will abide by our commitment to maintaining the confidentiality surrounding the contract and her employment with the College, as is required by her contract.”

In the March 12 complaint filed in the St. Joseph Superior Court, Cervelli sued 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. The Observer reported the initial complaint in a staff report March 14.

The following summarizes the major points of the College’s counterclaim and Cervelli’s response to the counterclaim. In legal proceedings, counterclaims and responses often present some clarification to the matter at hand but contain a large number of denials. In an effort to maintain clarity, each individual denial is not included below. However, the documents can be accessed in full online.

Cervelli claims Saint Mary’s did not honor the Employment Agreement the pair entered into Feb. 17, 2016.

While Saint Mary’s admits to the factual information included regarding entering the Employment Agreement, Saint Mary’s denies that it breached any provision of the agreement.

Cervelli asserts she received positive performance evaluations, leaving no indication of dissatisfaction with her performance.

In its counterclaim, Saint Mary’s admits to giving performance reviews that showed “degradation over a two year period of time and that these reviews speak for themselves” as well as “denies that the performance of Ms. Cervelli was satisfactory.”

Cervelli alleges she was pressured into resigning by members of the Board of Trustees.

The College argues that Cervelli “agreed to resign in lieu of termination,” and therefore was not pressured into resigning. They also claim that by attempting to enforce the terms of the Settlement Agreement, Cervelli is admitting to its validity. The Saint Mary’s counterclaim also denies the assertion that the chair of the Board of Trustees, Mary Burke, encouraged Cervelli to lie about the reason behind the resignation.

Cervelli asserts Saint Mary’s used the confidentiality agreement in her Settlement Agreement to silence her, subsequently confusing the College community.

Saint Mary’s denies this, claiming that the confidentiality aspect of the Settlement Agreement was created with the purpose of “protect[ing] Ms. Cervelli from public reputational harm.” The College also argues its statements to the media were made in an effort to prevent reputational harm to Cervelli.

Cervelli claims Saint Mary’s has failed to pay her the salary owed for her work as a tenured member of the College faculty.

In response to this claim, Saint Mary’s defends its payment of her severance and other benefits. In the counterclaim, Saint Mary’s argues that “Cervelli seeks payment of a salary she has not earned. Saint Mary’s denies that Ms. Cervelli is due salary in addition to severance benefits … [because she] has failed to secure approval to teach the requisite number of classes in order for her to be entitled to a salary as a tenured professor.”

Saint Mary’s also said the institution is not treating Cervelli in a way that is inconsistent with their Settlement Agreement. Cervelli responded to this claim by arguing the College failed to inform her of this requirement in their drafting of the Settlement Agreement, saying in her response that she would not have signed the Settlement Agreement if she was aware of the need for a teaching contract and a certain number of approved courses.

In her answer to the counterclaim, Cervelli affirms she was fraudulently induced to enter into the Settlement Agreement, whereas the College failed to disclose that a “teaching contract” was required for Cervelli to receive the salary of a tenured professor as of Jan. 1, 2019.

Cervelli also asserts in her answer to the counterclaim that failure to pay her the salary of a tenured, full professor violates Indiana’s Wage Payment Statute, which entitles her to “enhanced damages.”

Cervelli alleges she is not being treated in the manner that other tenured faculty members are treated, including the lack of an office and being banned from campus events, among other complaints.

Saint Mary’s said they do not offer office space to professors who are not currently teaching classes, which is their reasoning for not providing an office to Cervelli. Saint Mary’s also denies that Cervelli is banned from all campus events, arguing that she was only not allowed to attend faculty training day due to its purpose of informing only faculty teaching in the spring semester. Cervelli was not teaching in the spring semester.

Cervelli claims teaching positions for which she was qualified were hired, while she was left without courses to teach.

While the College admits it has hired faculty, it “denies that Ms. Cervelli had the academic credentials to teach any of the classes for which those positions were filled.” The College also argues that it believes it has been treating Cervelli the same way that it does other “similarly situated” professors.

In her answer to the counterclaim, Cervelli admits she filed the lawsuit after first attempting to resolve her claims with the College.

On April 4, Cervelli filed a Notice of Exclusion of Confidential Information, which sought to limit the public’s access to confidential information. On April 17, an order was issued denying Cervelli’s request.

The lawsuit is currently ongoing. The two parties have a hearing scheduled for May 31 at 2 p.m. in the St. Joseph Superior Court.

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