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Former Wheeling U. Faculty Members Sue for Wrongful Termination

WHEELING — Eight former faculty members of Wheeling Jesuit University are suing the institution claiming they were wrongfully terminated after the school declared it was in a “state of financial exigency” over the summer.

Parkersburg attorneys Walt Auvil and Kirk Auvil filed the lawsuit Aug. 30 in Ohio County Circuit Court on behalf of the eight tenured or tenured-track faculty members claiming breach of contract and violation of the state’s wage and payment act.

The plaintiffs, Kathryn A. Voorhees, Jason Fuller, Jessica Wrobleski, Peter Ehni, Andrew Staron, Amy Criniti Phillips, Nancy Bressler and John W. Whitehead III, claim their termination after the 2018-19 school year violated the university’s handbook that had been updated most recently in February 2018.

“Tenured or tenured-track faculty members whose appointments are terminated (not for cause) are given a terminal appointment for the next academic year,” according to the lawsuit, citing the university’s handbook. “At the discretion of the president, a faculty member may or may not be asked to teach during the terminal appointment. If the faculty member is offered the opportunity to teach, and chooses not to do so, the employment relationship is severed.”

The lawsuit claims Jacquelyn Madry-Taylor, the interim vice president of academic affairs, terminated each of them by issuing non-reappointment notices at the end of last school year. The eight faculty members should have been permitted to continue through a “terminal appointment” this academic year, according to the lawsuit.

In addition to Madry-Taylor, university President Michael Mihalyo, former Board of Trustees Chairman Kevin Quirk and Vice President of Human Resources and Compliance David Hacker are also named in the lawsuit. Also named are former bishop Michael Bransfield, who resigned from his position last September, and Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori, who served for 11 months as apostolic minister over the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston following Bransfield’s departure.

The lawsuit demands unspecified damages for lost wages, along with civil penalties and attorney fees.

University spokeswoman Julia Cook could not be reached for comment Friday.

The past year has been a tumultuous time for the university, which lost its Jesuit affiliation in April, prompting officials to rebrand the school as Wheeling University in July.

Quirk is no longer a member of the board and Mihalyo was placed on administrative leave Aug. 2 just as the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission was set to consider reauthorizing the university’s accreditation. The commission postponed a decision for two weeks before voting Aug. 16 to authorize the university and setting a number of conditions and deadlines to meet if it hopes to stay authorized over the next 10 months. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston also announced that day it was giving a $2 million gift to the university.

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