UNC officials: Willingham lawsuit should be tossed
Posted December 29, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Three administrators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Mary Willingham, a former academic adviser who public criticized literacy levels of UNC athletes amid investigations into academic fraud at the school.
Willingham filed suit in July against the university, claiming the school retaliated against her for speaking out by altering the terms of her employment in July 2013, including a demoted rank and title and additional job duties that would require "extensive training."
She also alleged in an amended lawsuit that Chancellor Carol Folt, Provost James Dean and Roberta "Bobbi" Owen, former senior associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Arts & Sciences, slandered her by calling her a "liar" and research into athlete literacy levels a "travesty."
The motion to dismiss Folt, Dean and Owen as defendants notes that Willingham resigned from UNC-Chapel Hill at the end of the 2013-14 school year and maintains the lawsuit is improper because Willingham didn't complete the university grievance process and exhaust all appeals before turning to the court for damages.
"Plaintiff’s amended complaint is an improper attempt to obtain damages for the loss of a job she chose to quit," the motion states.
The three officials also are protected by immunity from her claims for actions they took in their official roles, according to the motion.
UNC-Chapel Hill lawyers asked in August for Willingham's lawsuit to be dismissed against the university.
Former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein released a 131-page report in October detailing his investigation into fraudulent grades and coursework at the university. He found that academic counselors steered student-athletes to "irregular" classes within UNC-Chapel Hill's African and Afro-American Studies Department that had no faculty involvement and never met. The fraud went on for 18 years, ending in 2011, and involved 169 athletes whose grades in such classes kept them eligible to compete in athletics.