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Wartell’s suit alleges gender led to job loss

Says ex-Purdue chief sought women

Wartell

The Purdue University’s Board of Trustees is due in Fort Wayne this week for a meeting. The board members will likely be greeted with copies of a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court by former IPFW Chancellor Mike Wartell.

Ousted in 2011, Wartell sued the university, claiming gender discrimination and violation of his constitutional right to due process. In the lawsuit, Wartell asks for his old job back, on top of back pay and attorney fees.

Wartell’s attorney, Mark Ulmschneider, said the timing of the lawsuit depended on the state’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission granting Wartell the right to sue.

Purdue officials declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The EEOC ruling came in January, and in February, a Tippecanoe County Circuit Court judge ruled Purdue University could not claim attorney-client privilege as a reason to prevent disclosure of information related to Wartell’s removal.

Wartell was forced out in 2011 because Purdue University requires university executives to retire at age 65. Requests from IPFW that he be allowed to stay were denied. Purdue replaced him with a 64-year-old woman, Vicky Carwein. She assumed Wartell’s duties in September.

In the federal lawsuit, Wartell alleges that the school never enforced the policy on anyone who did not want to leave, including chancellors.

“The lawsuit is really simple. They’ve never enforced the retirement age for senior administrators. They’ve always waived it,” Ulmschneider said. “There’s no policy that requires them to get rid of a 65-year-old man and hire a 64-year-old woman.”

It is a decision, Ulmschneider said, that is inexplicable.

“Only fools would get rid of someone as competent as Mike,” Ulmschneider said. “It appears that the magnitude of the mistake is being played out. (Carwein) has no Division I experience … never ran a university as near as complex as this. And our community is going to pay an enormous price for this.”

The use of the retirement policy was merely a pretext for a gender discrimination against Wartell, according to court documents.

According to the lawsuit, in late 2010 or early 2011, then-Purdue President France Cordova announced in a meeting that, before her term as president was over, she wanted to increase the number of women in the administration.

“Cordova specifically pointed to a picture of Wartell on a board and said ‘I am going to replace this one with a woman,’ ” the lawsuit reads.

Cordova called Wartell in mid-May 2011 to tell him the school decided he would retire on June 30, 2012. But the board had not yet met, according to the lawsuit.

Wartell filed a complaint against the university in Tippecanoe County, claiming discrimination and harassment. Purdue hired John Trimble as an independent investigator. The investigation was completed in February and reported to a group of Purdue board members, which found no discrimination had taken place.

The hiring of Trimble is also central to the federal lawsuit.

Wartell contends, through his attorney, they had been led to believe that Purdue hired a neutral investigator. Instead, Purdue hired Trimble, an attorney representing the interests of Purdue.

That move by Purdue deprived Wartell of access to an unbiased investigation into his original complaint against Purdue, the lawsuit states.

Hiring the investigator as an attorney was like an act of fraud, Ulmschneider said.

The school continues to pay Wartell’s salary as a chancellor, making him effectively one of the highest-paid math teachers in the state, Ulmschneider said.

But all Wartell wants is to finish the job he was doing at the helm of IPFW, his attorney said. “There’s really no reason why they can’t fix this,” Ulmschneider said.

“We can get service of process on all these trustees when they’re in town,” Ulmschneider said. “It’s certainly gives them a chance to talk. If they’re here and they want to find out a little about IPFW … it would be a great opportunity.”

rgreen@jg.net

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