Scapegoated for a Scandal, College VP Claims

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) – California’s Desert Community College fired a vice president to scapegoat him for a $5.3 million funding scandal, the former administrator claims in court.
     Edwin Deas sued Desert Community College District, of Palm Desert, in Superior Court. Palm Desert is about 10 miles southeast of Palm Springs.
     Deas claims he lost his job after he cooperated with government investigators who found the college had received the millions in state funding because of inflated student enrollment numbers on the school’s database.
     Deas made identical claims, publicly, at the special meeting at which he was fired on Dec. 31 last, according to ccnewsnow.com, a website covering community colleges nationwide.
     The community college website reported on Jan. 3: “Deas spoke for 10 minutes during public comment challenging the legality of the meeting. He also criticized the nonrenewal as ‘retaliation’ for the erupting scandal over COD administrators knowingly inflating enrollment figures. A state audit shows the school received $5.3 million over seven years based on those enrollment numbers.
     “The special board meeting was called two days after a [Palm Springs] Desert Sun investigation found that several top COD administrators – including the former president – knew for years that the counting of student attendance was resulting in inflated enrollment figures and more state funding.”
     In his lawsuit, Deas claims he was “targeted as a scapegoat” because of his age and $174,513 annual salary.
     Deas claims he became aware the college was not going to renew his contract after a newspaper contacted him in late December.
     He was fired at a special, open meeting. By 2-1 vote, with one of the board’s five members abstaining.
     Discussions of personnel issues are customarily handled in closed session.
     Deas claims the vote was unlawful because board rules require a majority vote for such a move, and only two of five voted against him.
     At the meeting, Deas reminded the board he had nothing to do with managing the college database that was at the center of the investigation.
     “Plaintiff also stated that it was inappropriate to come up with a ‘sacrificial lamb’ in order to appease the media and that it looked like clear retaliation in exchange for his working cooperatively with the government during the investigation,” the lawsuit states.
     After the board voted not to renew his contract, Deas says, the college broke a promise to offer him another position.
     The media attention brought him “negative attention and comments” and “tarnished his reputation and career,” according to the complaint.
     Deas claims that college President Joel Kinnamon said he would make staff changes so the scandal would not be repeated, but he did not.
     After he lost his job, Deas says, he had to sell his home, and was unable to find another job.
     “Plaintiff has been told informally that he is known at other Southern California colleges as the FTES [Full-Time-Equivalent Student database] guy and also the guy who was set up,” the lawsuit states.
     Deas seeks damages for retaliation, age discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and costs.
     He is represented by Charles Mathews with The Mathews Law Group of Arcadia.
     Desert Community College did not immediately respond to a request for comment after business hours Tuesday.

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