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Former College Administrator Files Suit for Wrongful Termination

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Tarrant County College District logo. | Image by tccd.edu

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Dr. Kristen Bennett filed suit with the United States District Court, Dallas Division, on February 7 against her former employer, the Tarrant County College.

In the lawsuit, she alleged that her termination from her position as Executive Vice President of Advancement was in retaliation for disciplining a subordinate employee allegedly involved in an extramarital affair with Tarrant County College Chancellor Eugene Giovannini. The court filing was published on February 8 by the Fort Worth Report.

According to the lawsuit, the issues stemmed from the interactions of a subordinate female employee who was not named. The female employee allegedly had a conflict with a second employee who reported the matter to Bennett.

Bennett said, at the time of the initial complaint, she was not aware of the female employee’s alleged affair or the rumors circulating about her, which claimed that she had made threats against other employees as well as had a history of erratic behavior.

According to the filing, Bennett, who was hired October 1, 2020, and worked virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions until July 13, 2021, had a positive relationship with Chancellor Giovannini, up to the point in which the disciplinary action against the female employee began.

The first negative interaction between Bennett and the female employee occurred on July 13, 2021. Later, Bennett learned that the female employee in question had told a coworker that the second employee, who had reported her to Bennett, “made her so mad she wanted to choke her until her tongue came out.”

Following the initial complaint, Bennett met with the employee in question, encouraged her to apologize to the other employee, and informed her that she must get along with other team members. The meeting did not change the employee’s behavior, and Bennett had to speak to her about the “fractious” work environment caused by the employee’s actions.

On August 17, 2021, Bennett was summoned to the Office of the Chancellor to meet with Giovannini. According to the suit, Bennett said that during the talk, Giovannini informed her that he was “concerned” about her “boastfulness” at a recent meeting. Bennett offered to apologize to anyone who was offended, to which Giovannini responded that the others present “do not matter,” and that “only (he) mattered.” Giovannini informed Bennett that he was offended by her boastfulness.

On August 30, one day before Bennett’s employment contract was set to be renewed, Giovannini informed her that her contract would not be renewed and that she would be placed in an Executive Development Plan, similar to a personal improvement plan (PIP) often used to mitigate concerns with an employee in lieu of termination. Giovannini apparently stated that the reason was due to unnamed “issues” he had with her performance.

A meeting on August 31 followed, in which Bennett was given a copy of the PIP and was apparently told by Giovannini to cease sending communications by email and instead provide information only by hand-written and hand-delivered means. Bennett claims Giovannini told her that he “did not want any paper trail” regarding the matter.

In early September, Bennett says the female employee in question again caused problems in the department, this time sending an “ugly and inappropriate email” to a coworker. Bennett, for the first time, involved Human Relations and spoke with HR Director Dimitri Hall.

On October 28, 2021, an in-house Associate District General Counsel questioned Bennett about rumors of the extramarital affair between the employee and Giovannini. Bennett told the attorney that the employee had told her that Giovannini had helped her by writing a letter to a judge to aid with a DUI or DWI charge the employee was facing. Bennett was informed that there were not enough facts to initiate an official investigation.

In subsequent meetings with the General Counsel, Bennett was told that her discipline from Giovannini should never have happened. It was explained that she was not fully informed or aware of her rights in the matter, but that the issue should have gone through HR, which it did not.

Fearing for her professional reputation and unable to continue working under the stress brought on by the alleged actions of the Chancellor, Bennett filed a letter of resignation in November. Following the Thanksgiving break, and after having discussions with members of the Foundation Board, Bennett rescinded her resignation on December 2.

Bennett was placed on administrative leave on December 9, and members of the two governing boards were informed on December 10 that Bennett had voluntarily left her position. Citing procedural errors and the presence of a PIP on file, Bennett was terminated on January 14, 2022.

“The Cesspool of events… are the direct product of the breach of trust owed by Giovannini to the District and to the tax-paying public,” the lawsuit concludes. “The Defendant District has a recent and long history of denying procedural due process to employees who have been wrongfully terminated.”

Giovannini did not respond to The Dallas Express‘ request for comment, and no statement from him had been made available as of press time. Tarrant County College also declined to provide comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

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