One of eight women who accused Pima Community College’s former chancellor of sexual harassment has won a federal court ruling against the school’s current chancellor for violating her civil rights.
It’s the second time in eight months that a judge has found Chancellor Lee Lambert personally liable for terminating a college employee without providing a hearing or due process.
The college itself also is liable for Lambert’s actions, the ruling said.
U.S. District Court Judge Raner C. Collins ruled March 1 that Lambert wrongly deprived ex-administrator Imelda Cuyugan of an annual contract for the 2015 school year.
“Chancellor Lambert deprived Plaintiff of a (contract) without any due process and is liable in his personal capacity,” Collins, chief judge of the federal court in Tucson, said in his written decision.
Cuyugan’s lawsuit is ongoing, and the judge’s ruling only settles the specific question of wrongful termination.
Still to be determined is whether she was let go for the reasons she claims: due to gender discrimination and in retaliation for her sexual harassment complaint against former PCC Chancellor Roy Flores.
PCC officials “are disappointed by and disagree with” Raner’s recent ruling, said PCC spokeswoman Libby Howell. “However, the college remains confident in the final outcome once the evidence is presented to a jury,” she said.
But a jury may never hear the case. Lawyers for both sides agreed on March 9 to start mediation talks in hopes of reaching an out-of-court settlement, court records show.
The $137,000-a-year job Cuyugan lost — that of assistant vice chancellor for state government relations — is one she secured in a 2012 out-of-court settlement after filing a federal complaint against Flores, the former chancellor, court records show.
She said Flores propositioned her repeatedly during out-of-town business trips, and bypassed her for an executive job after she spurned his advances.
In the current case, PCC’s lawyers argued unsuccessfully that Cuyugan wasn’t terminated from the position she obtained in the 2012 settlement. Rather, they said, her position was eliminated in a departmental reorganization that saved the college nearly $100,000 a year.
The judge said Lambert violated PCC policy in his handling of the Cuyugan case. The policy requires college administrators to be notified by Feb. 15 if they will not be offered contracts for the following school year, but Cuyugan wasn’t notified until four months past the cutoff date, the judge said.
A different federal judge made a similar ruling against Lambert last summer.
U.S. District Court Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson ruled in July that Lambert violated the civil rights of former chemistry instructor David A. Katz by terminating Katz without giving him with a hearing or an opportunity to defend himself. PCC recently settled out of court with Katz for $150,000.
Lambert, an attorney with a decade of experience in civil rights and employment law, did not respond to requests for comment on the recent ruling.
Most Governing Board members remain confident in Lambert’s leadership, board chair Mark Hanna said in an interview.
“We continue to have full confidence in him, especially in light of the recent lifting of all sanctions” by the school’s accreditor, Hanna said. The lifting of sanctions was “in a large part due to his leadership and vision.”
But Luis Gonzales, the board’s newest member, said he is concerned about Lambert’s violations of employees’ civil rights. “The board should be holding him accountable,” he said in an interview.