D'Amico responds through lawyer to being snubbed

May 28, 2007

Carol D'Amico has been publicly silent since the board passed over her for president of Ivy Tech Community College in March. Some even might say the former Ivy Tech executive vice president handled the slight with grace.

But a letter her attorney dashed off a day after the vote says she deemed neither of the finalists for the job qualified and the selection process ripe for a lawsuit.

D'Amico's "outstanding qualifications made her the obvious choice to lead the college as its president," her attorney, Barnes & Thornburg partner Susan Zoeller, wrote to Ivy Tech's outgoing president, Gerald Lamkin, on March 23.

"The search committee's decision to advance two unqualified males over Dr. D'Amico, as well as a secretive selection process, led several of the trustees to demand that the hiring process be halted," the letter said. "The fact that these concerns went unheeded is disturbing."

The letter, obtained by IBJ, charges that Lamkin questioned her ability to "carry out the demanding tasks of the presidency," given her husband's Parkinson's disease. It also charges that one of the college's trustees made sexist comments, including "that a woman would never be president of Ivy Tech."

Such statements, Zoeller told Lamkin, "further undermine the lawfulness of the decision-making process and create serious legal consequences for the college."

Six weeks later, on May 7, D'Amico left Ivy Tech under a severance agreement that pays her a year's salary and benefits totaling $199,998, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by IBJ under the state's open records law.

The agreement was signed by D'Amico and Lamkin. Neither of them, nor Zoeller, returned phone calls.

Zoeller's letter doesn't identify which of the college's 14 trustees allegedly made sexist remarks. It also doesn't say how much money D'Amico initially sought. The final amount is just $2 shy of the minimum requiring board of trustees' approval. A vote would have made public the separation benefits, likely reigniting controversy over D'Amico's being passed over.

Instead, the Ivy Tech board tapped as president Thomas Snyder, a former executive at Anderson-based Remy International and chairman of Flagship Energy Systems Center, in Anderson.

The other finalist was Col. Thomas Klincar, commandant of the Community College of the Air Force, in Alabama.

In the letter, Zoeller told Lamkin that D'Amico sought to resign "given the current hostile work environment" and that, "with an eye to avoiding an acrimonious and public airing of her claims, we believe a severance agreement is in the best interest of all concerned."

That might be one of the few things D'Amico and leaders of the community college agree on.

"I don't think anybody on the board wishes Carol anything but the best ... I would say a peaceful and professional resolution was in everyone's best interest," said Joseph Bumbleburg, Ivy Tech's longest-serving trustee and an attorney at Ball Eggleston in Lafayette.

He declined to discuss details of the separation agreement.

While legal saber-rattling in such settlements isn't unusual, "It sounds like [D'Amico] was truly angry," said Kevin Betz, an Indianapolis attorney who represents workers in employment cases.

The question is whether D'Amico could have successfully argued in court that she was discriminated against. Generally, it's difficult to prevail on Americans with Disabilities Act complaints against the state, Betz said.

"Were there any witnesses that would stand up and say, 'Yeah, Charlie said it?'" Betz said of the remarks D'Amico alleged.

Ultimately, Ivy Tech may have agreed to a settlement so as not to bring distractions to Snyder's new administration.

"You just don't know," Betz said.

As part of the agreement, D'Amico releases Ivy Tech from any legal or further financial claims.

The agreement, however, doesn't end the lingering resentment over the board's pick. Gov. Mitch Daniels favored D'Amico to lead the state's second-largest postsecondary institution, and her rejection sparked a political firestorm.

She was President George W. Bush's former assistant secretary for vocational and adult education. Before that, she was Ivy Tech's dean of work-force development.

The letter suggested D'Amico believed the job was hers when Lamkin left.

"When you recruited Dr. D'Amico to return to Ivy Tech ... you made it clear that is was your intention for her to succeed you as president," Zoeller told Lamkin.

Zoeller rattled off a long list of D'Amico's accomplishments, including those during her initial post as chancellor of the central Indiana region. They include developing the college's "first statewide strategic plan" and securing large grants from the U.S. Department of Labor to train health care and advanced manufacturing workers.

The letter listed D'Amico's national experience, such as her appointment by the U.S. secretary of education to chair the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. She also is an adviser to the American Council on Education's Center for Lifelong Learning

But some on Ivy Tech's board didn't want someone they viewed as an educational bureaucrat at the helm as the college tries to respond faster to employer needs in growing fields such as advanced manufacturing and health care.

"Non-traditional leaders are starting to come to the floor," said Bumbleburg, the Ivy Tech trustee, noting trends at other educational institutions focused on career development.

Snyder "has run a big business. This may sound crass, but we are a big business," Bumbleburg said of the 23-campus college with 105,000 students statewide.

He also said someone like Snyder, given his business experience, will have a perspective on workplace issues that an educator might not.

Whether or not D'Amico was the right choice, the college's willingness to settle leaves the impression she might have had a legitimate legal claim, said Ivy Tech trustee Kaye Whitehead of Muncie.

Whitehead said she hasn't seen the settlement or the letter D'Amico's attorney sent to Lamkin. If D'Amico's allegations of sexist statements are true, then "whoever made that statement certainly didn't have the best interests of Ivy Tech at heart," Whitehead said.

She also was struck that the settlement forbids D'Amico from applying to or working for Ivy Tech for four years. Whitehead said she's heard many positive accounts of how D'Amico helped Ivy Tech grow from a technical college into more of a statewide community college.

One of D'Amico's focuses was on making class schedules more convenient for working adults and more quickly developing customized worker training for employers.

Why, Whitehead asked, wouldn't Ivy Tech want to leave open the possibility of tapping her expertise within the next four years?

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