Retaliatory Tales

Cases from around the state illustrate university employees' unhappy encounters with whistleblowing

Marguerite Kay is far from being the only university or state employee to claim reprisals for whistleblowing. The following are synopses of a few cases from around the state. The narratives were assembled using court documents and rulings, as well as testimony and rulings from university hearing panels. Comments from the whistleblowers come from interviews with them.

University officials at Northern Arizona, Arizona State and University of Arizona declined to comment on the cases. "Just remember," says an ASU university official who wished not to be identified, "the administration has its hands tied in talking about these kinds of cases. We take a beating in the press, and we can't say a word because it's a personnel issue or it's an ongoing case. There's always more to the story than you print."

Camille Kimball was a producer and on-air personality at KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS station at Arizona State University. Kimball had four excellent performance reviews in 1989 and 1990, her first two years on the job. But Kimball complained in 1991 that she and fellow producers were not receiving promised payments for excessive overtime. She produced documentation that proved that she and others had been promised compensation that had never been paid. After that, Kimball's performance evaluations plummeted, the bureau she was hired to create was abolished and she was taken off the air, which decreased her pay.

In 1995, the U.S. Department of Labor ruled in favor of Kimball. Kimball then argued before the State Personnel Board that ASU didn't qualify for exemption from the whistleblower rules for state government, so she should be considered a state employee with the right to subpoena documents and have an attorney during hearings. The Personnel Board agreed with Kimball and assumed jurisdiction.

ASU successfully filed an injunction in Superior Court to have her case removed from the State Personnel Board. Kimball appealed, and in October 1999, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Kimball could subpoena records and have full representation by her attorney. Kimball now works for Channel 5. "It has been a real eye-opening experience for me," Kimball says. "You don't think this kind of stuff goes on until you live through it."

Glenn Johnson, director of the UofA American Indian Graduate Center, made a formal report claiming that the Graduate College misappropriated about $5,000. An audit found that the money had indeed been moved inappropriately among UofA funds. Glenn then received a written letter of reprimand, and the university greatly reduced the space allocated to his program.

Johnson went through UofA's new whistleblower grievance process, which whistleblower advocates say still doesn't protect people from retaliation. During his hearing in December 1999, the administration refused to produce documents central to Johnson's case and refused him legal representation. That violated an Arizona Supreme Court ruling -- made two months earlier in the Camille Kimball case -- saying university employees must be allowed to subpoena documents and witnesses and have an attorney.

"You go through the process and end up realizing you have no rights whatsoever," Johnson said in a letter to New Times earlier this year. He remains in his position as director of the graduate center.

• In 1992, Kevin McHugh reported the long-term presence of formaldehyde fumes and illegal hazardous material handling in his work area adjacent to an anatomy laboratory in the University of Arizona College of Medicine. OSHA cited and fined the College of Medicine in January 1993 for these illegal fumes. McHugh, who had never before received a negative performance evaluation, was abruptly fired. McHugh filed another complaint with OSHA regarding mandatory medical examinations and his right to return to work. In December 1996, OSHA again cited and fined the university for illegal retaliation. On December 31, 1996, McHugh was again fired from his job.

• By 1993, William Dever's Near Eastern Archaeology graduate program at UofA was the largest of its kind in the world. Dever, who has published 15 books and 250 articles and is considered one of the world's top Mideast archaeologists, ran the program entirely on grants from outside the university. In 1992, Dever complained that administrators had been interfering with the hiring and retention of faculty members in his department, interference that was overturning majority decisions of department faculty. In 1993, the administration closed the graduate program and substantially changed Dever's duties. Dever did not return calls from New Times.

 
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