Associate Professor Files Claim Against UW Administrators
A University of Wyoming associate professor is claiming that she was wrongfully terminated from her position at UW.
According to the official notice of claim submitted to the UW Office of the President on Mar. 14, Dr. Donna Leigh Bliss is seeking damages for wrongful termination, denial of due process rights and breach of university regulations.
In the claim, Bliss alleges that she was removed from her position as Director of the Division of Social Work on Nov. 20, 2015 as a retaliatory measure for submitting negative annual reviews against two faculty members.
The claim states Bliss was hired in 2013 by College of Health Sciences Dean Joseph Steiner, to reorganize the department and deal with a pattern of dysfunction, which included a climate of bullying and directors being undermined.
Bliss claims she worked closely with Steiner during the annual review process to fix the issues, particularly with two disruptive faculty members. Bliss says she worked with Steiner to produce the annual reviews and the presentation of the reviews to the faculty members.
After the reviews, the two faculty members filed formal retaliation complaints against Bliss with the then Interim Associate Vice President of Academic Personnel and Budgets and Personnel Tami Benham-Deal. Associate Dean of College of Education Suzanne Young was appointed investigator. The claim alleges that the investigation was flawed.
Bliss says she was made to look like she had engaged in retaliation by Young, at the instruction of Benham-Deal and the apparent support of Tara Evans, then deputy general counsel.
Bliss states in the claim that she was never informed of the first investigation report that was issued on May 21, 2015 or the second one of July 7, 2015.
But she says, her accusers were. Bliss says she raised her concerns with David Jones, then president of academic affairs, who did not take any corrective action.
Bliss was removed from her position as director on Nov. 20 by Steiner. The claim states that as a division head, Bliss was considered an officer of the university, whose appointment and removal is done by the UW Board of Trustees. The removal of bliss could only come from the trustees and is a violation of UW regulations, according to the claim.
Bliss claims that the actions taken by the administrators prevent her from pursuing career options in high-level administration at UW, which she says, was encouraged by Steiner. Bliss claims that her professional reputation was irrevocably damaged and those opportunities will no longer be available to her.
“I believe people in positions of power have the extra burden of behaving ethically and according to University regulations. It is very clear that Steiner, Jones, Benham-Deal, and Evans did not do so,” Bliss says in a statement. “While people tell me it is futile to raise these concerns as the ‘university doesn’t care,’ I think it is important to shine a light on the wrongdoing of people in positions of power. I find Tara Evans’ conduct, who President Nichols appointed as the chief legal officer of UW, to be very troubling, particularly her withholding the first two investigation reports, whose existence was never divulged to me at the time, under a legally dubious claim of the deliberative process privilege.”
UW Spokesman Chad Baldwin says the university is aware of the action, but cannot comment on matters of litigation, especially those involving faculty members.