Former U treasurer files lawsuit

V. Paul

A former University treasurer who was removed from her duties because of personal financial and legal affairs filed a racial discrimination lawsuit Friday against the Board of Regents.
The suit, brought by Georgina Stephens, alleges University officials ignored her advice of “best financial practices,” created an environment of hostility against minorities and retaliated against her when she filed a complaint by eventually removing her from her post and not renewing her contract.
“It’s basically alleging that there are systemic problems with race at the University,” said Karl Oliver, Stephens’ attorney.
Stephens, who is black, has a similar suit at the state Court of Appeals, asking to be reinstated to her former positions as the regents’ treasurer and associate vice president of treasury operations, in which she managed the University’s $1.3 billion in assets and $533.3 million in debts.
Stephens filed the district court case before resolving the appellate case because she had a limited time frame to take legal action based on discriminatory grounds, Oliver said.
The case needed to be filed within 90 days after she was issued a “Notice of Right to Sue” in January by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
However, University officials deny any wrongdoing and have taken the new case in stride.
“Her claims are now in a different court, but they’re no more meritorious,” University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said.
Rotenberg said University President Mark Yudof and the Board of Regents had the authority to reassign Stephens, while Stephens’ lawsuit contends her duties as treasurer were guaranteed by the University’s 1851 charter.
The regents amended the board’s bylaws in order to remove her from her post.
“The charter doesn’t determine what Ms. Stephens does here at the University,” Rotenberg said. Although the charter references a number of leading roles at the University — including the president’s and treasurer’s — “no one suggests that we should be frozen in time,” Rotenberg said. These offices have all evolved over time, he said.

Legal jungle
The district court case is another step in Stephens’ efforts to reclaim her position and her reputation, which she said has been damaged by the University’s actions against her.
Following a six-week investigation by University investigators last fall, Yudof decided to reassign Stephens to nonfinancial duties and to allow her contract to expire June 30. However, the review did not find any problems with Stephens’ management of her duties.
The review was brought about by concerns that Stephens’ personal legal and financial affairs, which included her filing for bankruptcy stemming from a 10-year legal battle, might affect public confidence in her position. Her financial difficulties involved real-estate transactions, a major part of her job description as treasurer.
In response, Stephens filed her appellate court case in February arguing she was discriminated against because of her bankruptcy filings and that white employees in similar situations were not. It also included claims of racial discrimination similar to the district court case.
Oral arguments in the appellate case will be heard April 26.
University officials are just as confident about this new case as they are about the appellate case.
“We will certainly proceed to defend against this lawsuit aggressively,” Rotenberg said.

V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected]