LA CROSSE, Wis. - A University of Wisconsin-La Crosse employee is seeking a monetary settlement after being fired for making what some call offensive comments to a student employee.
UW-La Crosse police dispatcher Kim Dearman was fired March 13 for what her lawyer says was political speech protected by the Constitution.
The university ended up offering Dearman her job back because the school's chancellor, Joe Gow, said due process wasn't followed in the firing process.
Dearman’s attorney, Lee Fehr, asked for a $250,000 settlement.
The situation all started, Fehr said, with a campuswide email from Gow.
"This resulted in my client getting fired and a lovely young student becoming unsatisfied with the job,” Fehr said.
On Jan. 30, Gow sent an email, part of which was later retracted, saying he was "shocked and saddened" by President Donald Trump's immigration ban.
According to the university's employee investigation, on Feb. 1, Dearman was training a student employee with an Asian background when the student said Dearman commented on Gow's email, saying "all immigrants deserved to go back to where they were from," and told the student " but no offense to you."
"Most places to have policies you cannot insult people, particularly a student employee at a university in the work place,” Gow said.
Gow said Dearman was fired based on university guidelines not allowing threatening or abusive language and conduct unbecoming a university employee.
But Fehr argued Dearman was simply making a political statement in response to Gow's political statement in the email.
"We want everyone's job performance to be judged on a similar standard,” he said.
Gow said there's a big difference between what he said and what Dearman said.
"I would say that my work, that's ideas. What she said is an insult,” Gow said. “It's something that's said to make somebody feel bad and it worked in this case."
Dearman is back on the job. Fehr, however, said that's not enough, and is looking for a settlement. He said the university asked for a number and he suggested $250,000.
"Free speech and due process are the foundation of our country. End of story,” he said. “It wasn't done right; it was done wrong, and the university should stand up to the plate and correct a situation they've created."
"We're not going to be paying anything in this,” Gow said.
According to the university, Dearman had been in a performance improvement plan process for previous disciplinary actions at the time of her firing.
Fehr is requesting the UW Board of Regents investigate whether Dearman violated the guidelines that got her fired and also whether Gow's conduct has violated the same guidelines
Gow said he was made aware of the situation after Dearman was fired. In the future, Gow has requested that he be made aware of terminations like this before they occur to make sure no mistakes are made in the process.
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