May 13, 2010

Edinboro University Settles Lawsuit Against Ombuds and Other Administrators

The public liberal arts university in Pennsylvania has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former student. In his federal lawsuit, Cameron Aulner, a 2009 graduate of Edinboro had alleged that William Chandler, a Communication and Media Studies professor had made suggestive comments in class and asked him on a date in 2008. Aulner alleged in his lawsuit that the university failed to take action despite his complaints to the Ombuds and other administrators. Edinboro reportedly paid $495,000 in the settlement.

The operative complaint in the lawsuit named as defendants University President Jeremy Brown; Janet Dean, Associate VP of Human Resources; Terry Warburton, Chair of the Communications and Media Studies Department; and Valerie Hayes, Director of Social Equity and Ombudsperson. (Chandler was dropped from the lawsuit after he committed suicide in December 2009.) The student, Aulner, alleged that he complained at least twice to Hayes, although it was not clear whether that was in her capacity as Director of Social Equity or as Ombuds. Nonetheless, Aulner said that Hayes told him in a letter the university would take steps to correct the situation with Chandler, but that the harassment persisted.  In court records, Edinboro admitted that administrators had investigated some of the claims made against Chandler, but denied that the school's retention of the professor violated Aulner's rights. (Original USDC Complaint; Edinboro Spectator; Go Erie News.)

Aulner, who is paraplegic, gained notoriety in his hometown last October when he tackled a suspected child molester fleeing a crime. (Denver Post.)


  1. Being named as a defendant seems to imply some culpability, but in this case it doesn't sound like the ombudsman did anything wrong. Instead, it seems like the administration simply failed to handle a bad situation. Sounds like a frustrating case for the ombudsman.

  2. I'm betting Hayes wishes she didn't wear two hats.

  3. Two hats IS doing something wrong.
    Time and again those who wear two hats have either lead to the closure of the program (anyone remember Genentech?) or legal troubles such as described here.

    As the term continues to be used more and more, and with less and less specificity and orthodoxy to actual meanings, situations like this will continue.

    The single greatest impediment to the development of the Organization Ombudsman field, in number of host organizations, or legislative support remains the utter lack of understanding of the term, especially as distinct from classical ombudsmen.

    Several programs, proposed in federal legislation use the word Ombudsman in the title. Inside the legislation the term ADVOCATE is repeated and is the actual function. This includes Senator Franken's proposed Homeowner's Ombudsman (Modeled off of the IRS Taxpayer Advocate) Senator Dodd's Ombudsman (Functional titled Office of the Investor Advocate) and others.

    I believe it was at the Annual Conference in Tuscon where a speaker (forgive me I do not recall the name) urged the field increase efforts at self definition of the profession. The strong contention was that if we did not do it, others would do it to us. In my limited perspective and recent experience, I would say that is more and more the case.

    John W. Zinsser

  4. The other 2-hatted culprit in this case was ombudsperson/HR VP Janet Dean, whose Ombudsrole Hayes inherited. Dean was the person to whom Edinboro employees and students were told to bring their sexual harrassment complaints to. She was named in this complaint also.

    IMHO Edinboro U's administration is notorious for their refusal to properly address complaints of any kind. The sexual harrassment complaints (there are more than one) are coming back to haunt them. As they well should!!

    1. as a former student and employee of edinboro you have no idea how correct you are
      and yes there IS a reason why i will remain anonymous