December 15, 2018

Former Webster employee seeks $300,000 in lawsuit against Webster

Acting as her own attorney, former Webster University employee Loretta Erby filed a lawsuit against Webster and four of its employees in February 2013. Citing wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, a hostile environment, defamation, retaliation, mental distress and emotional harm, the former South Carolina campus department assistant is suing for $300,000. Erby also claims Webster violated her civil rights and has requested a jury trial.

Listed alongside Webster as defendants are:

• Betsy Schmutz, associate vice president and chief human resources officer
• Beth Russell, assistant provost for graduate studies, then-associate vice president of extended campuses
• David Dunlap, retired, then-state director for South Carolina
• Sam Cooper, South Carolina regional academic director

In her opening complaint, Erby lists a series of events she says demonstrates the merit of her claims.

• On Jan. 4, 2012, Erby alleges Dunlap became hostile with her after she showed him with proof of her management responsibilities.
• On Mar. 22, 2012, Erby sent an internal grievance to Schmutz.
• On Apr. 14, 2012, Erby sent a letter of academic Issue.
• On April 18, 2012, Erby filed a formal grievance complaint with Schmutz.
• On May 17, 2012, Erby filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the basis of race, sexual harassment and retaliation against Webster.
• On Sept. 12, 2012, Erby claims she was demoted to department assistant from program coordinator.
• Also on Sept. 12, 2012, Erby filed an internal ethics complaint against Sam Cooper, David Dunlap and Beth Russell concerning discrimination and harassment.
• Erby makes reference to an alleged altercation with a colleague that took place on Sept. 12, 2012. After this alleged incident, Erby claims she was fired by Cooper for insubordination and because the colleague was “fearful of me.”
• Erby claims she was demoted and terminated by Webster after returning from medical leave for “severe depression.”
• Erby claims she was enrolled as a student prior to her termination. After she was terminated, Erby claims she was locked out of her student account and unable to complete her course. Because of incident, Erby filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
• Erby says on Nov. 2, 2012 she filed for unemployment and was informed that her claim would need to be investigated. Webster claims this is common with most unemployment filings.

Erby also provided 11 pieces of evidence for her claims, including emails, letters from university officials, internal records and past articles from The Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and internet forums.

In its response, Webster alleges Erby failed to state a triable claim outright against the university. Because of this, Webster has asked the court to dismiss Erby’s lawsuit. Furthermore, Webster claims Erby’s allegations are “somewhat difficult to decipher.”

“The Complaint and its attachments are laid out in a very loose reverse chronological order. Moreover, several paragraphs in the Complaint are an unintelligible mix of sentence fragments and incomplete thoughts,” Webster alleges.

Webster claims Erby’s change in job positions had nothing to due with her medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Webster also claims Erby’s position was eliminated and she was placed in another position, and fired with cause. Webster also claims Erby was disciplined on Sept. 17, 2012 and said any “allegedly defamatory statements made about [Erby] were true.”

In a memo to Erby, Cooper outlined the alleged altercation between Erby and her colleague, LaShaunda Chavis, that occurred on Sept. 12, 2012. Cooper said it was reported to him that Erby had elbowed Chavis and intentionally bumped her with a cart. Cooper also claims Erby denied the altercation, but that a student had witnessed it and reported it to the Webster Groves campus.

Calling the incident “highly inappropriate and not professional behavior in the workplace,” Cooper asked Erby to adhere to more professional behavior.

Erby claims some sort of personal dispute between her and Chavis in her emails prior to the alleged altercation.
Also listed in the emails submitted as evidence by Erby is an alleged email conversation that took place between Erby and Betsy Schmutz. Schmutz, it appears, offered to create a new login for Erby in regards to her being locked out of her account because of termination. Erby replied that a new login should not be created for her. Erby claimed she would not be treated fairly in her class and asked to be reimbursed for the class and “the entire sequential HR Development degree, since I cannot complete the degree as indicated by my program plan given to me by one of your advisors. ”

“This actions[sic] shows that you all are reactionary and not proactive as indicated in my letter of academic issues to Dr. Schuster, in April 2012,” wrote Erby.

Webster has asked the court to make Erby pay for the university’s legal fees related to the case.

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