State Supreme Court finds for U in discrimination lawsuit

by Tess Langfus

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling Monday that will have important implications for University employees who file work-related complaints.
The court denied Georgina Stephens, a former University treasurer, a review of a July court decision which ruled she could not request the University to reconsider its decision to terminate her.
Stephens started the grievance process against the University in November 1999 after President Yudof and Board of Regents Chairwoman Patricia Spence removed her from her duties as University treasurer.
“We’re disappointed that (the court) didn’t take review,” said Karl Oliver, Stephen’s attorney.
Stephens could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Mark Rotenberg, lead attorney for the University, said the decision is important because it sets a precedent for University faculty who might have grievances with the University.
“(The Supreme Court’s decision) stands for the proposition that University employees must exhaust the University grievance process before they file legal action,” Rotenberg said. “The case now goes into the win column for us.”
Under the grievance policy, there are four phases available to non-union employees with an internal complaint.
The first step is an informal meeting between the disputing parties. The second step is another informal meeting between the grievant and a second-level supervisor.
The third step involves a panel hearing with three neutral University employees, and then, finally, a binding decision made through arbitration.
Arbitration only occurs if the grievant party chooses to proceed to arbitration and agrees to waive the right to pursue the same claim in court.
According to the grievance policy, employees must complete the first three steps before advancing the case to the district court.
Stephens discontinued the process before completing the first step when she canceled a scheduled meeting with University President Mark Yudof in December 1999, said Carolyn Chalmers, a University grievance officer.
Oliver said he was disappointed with the decisions by the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.
“It’s not a part of (the employee’s) contract according to the grievance policy,” Oliver said. “The Court of Appeals did not endorse or say the University did not do anything wrong. All it said was that she had to go through the grievance process. We were very perplexed by their reasoning.”
While Stephens argued that she was stripped of her financial duties because of her personal bankruptcy and financial difficulties, the University denied the allegation and said they terminated her because she could not be insured, a requirement for the treasury position.
Stephens still has another discrimination lawsuit pending against the University in Hennepin County District Court.
Rotenberg said he expects the case to be resolved in the next few months.
While Stephens’ plan was to return to her position as treasurer, Oliver said she is now pursuing other options.
“The way the University treated her has made her life very difficult,” Oliver said.

Tess Langfus welcomes comments at [email protected]