Sunday, March 24, 2013
NWACC Ex-Employee Sues College
By Dave Perozek
Posted: March 21, 2013 at 5 a.m.Benton County Daily News
BENTONVILLE — A woman fired last year by NorthWest Arkansas Community College has filed a lawsuit claiming her dismissal was in retaliation for complaints she made about the college.
Susan Gidney had worked as a fixed-assets accountant for five years before she was fired in July. She seeks an unspecified monetary award that would include back pay for lost wages and benefits. She also wants her job back.
The lawsuit names the college; Becky Paneitz, college president; and Wendi Cadle, human resources director, as defendants.
Steven Hinds, a college spokesman, declined to respond to the allegations in the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in federal court in Fayetteville.
“We have turned it over to our attorney and have been advised it is best not to comment while this matter is in litigation,” Hinds said.
During the last 15 months of her employment, Gidney sent a series of letters to government officials and the media expressing her concern about newspaper articles that reported several college employees had received raises in violation of a state wage freeze, according to the lawsuit. Gidney also complained about college management practices.
When Gidney applied for a different position at the college last year, she learned in July the job already had been filled. She then obtained all documents related to the job through a Freedom of Information request.
Gidney emailed officials at the state Office of Personnel Management expressing concern the college might not have followed state guidelines in filling the position, according to the lawsuit.
She later told Beverly Hill, a human resources employee at the college, she was considering filing an age discrimination complaint against the college with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“The speech by Plaintiff concerned misconduct of public officials and how to remedy that misconduct and discrimination, as well as public officials’ misconduct in (mis)spending public monies, (mis)managing publicly owned property, and in the education of youth,” according to the lawsuit.
Gidney was fired less than a week after her conversation with Hill, according to the lawsuit.
“The reason given ... was misconduct, in the form of failure to complete required assigned work in a timely manner,” according to the lawsuit.
Supervisors evaluated Gidney’s performance four times during her time as a college employee. She received a rating of “above average” or “exceeds standards” each time.
Gidney is in her mid-50s, said Charles Kester, her attorney. She still lives in Northwest Arkansas.
“She is unemployed and has been looking for work ever since she got fired,” Kester said. “This has ruined her life. She has no job and has no prospects. She’s a middle-aged woman with a very specific skill set.”
Gidney thought she was more qualified for the job she was seeking last year than the person who was hired for it, and that person is younger than her, Kester said.
The retaliation complaint is at the heart of the lawsuit, Kester said.
“Her main concern was she was fired because she was complaining about things of public concern,” he said. “It’s retaliation for her trying to do the muckraking and bring the muck to light.”