Drexel Vice President sues Drexel, alleges retaliation due to disability | The Triangle

Drexel Vice President sues Drexel, alleges retaliation due to disability

Photo by Taylor Clark | The Triangle

On April 8, Drexel’s Vice President and University Chief Compliance and Privacy Officer Kim Gunter filed a lawsuit against Drexel University, alleging that they “failed to make reasonable accommodation” and that she faced “retaliation” against her due to her disability. She is seeking no less than $150,000 to pay for damages, attorney’s fees, and other costs. 

Gunter is suing based on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This law prevents discrimination based on disability. Employers are required to provide equal opportunities and reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

In the lawsuit, Gunter alleges she was charged with insubordination on March 4, and then “placed on administrative leave by Drexel” on March 7. After her supervisor, Helen Bowman (Executive Vice President, Treasurer and Chief Operating Officer) accused Gunter of insubordination for “not participating in the Zoom meeting.”

In an email to the Triangle, Drexel stated “The University is aware of the court filing. Drexel does not comment on pending litigation.” Gunter and her lawyer could not be reached for comment by email in time for publication. 

According to the lawsuit, Gunter began working at Drexel in July 2019. Since the beginning of her employment, she claims that she has faced “persistent insubordination, aggressions, and harassment by Drexel’s Chief Audit Executive Billy Shea.”

During a March 2020 meeting, the lawsuit alleges that Shea “complained to the Audit Committee [and] Board of Trustees” about Gunter’s job title, which was Vice President and Chief Compliance, Privacy and Internal Audit Office. After the meeting, then-chair of the Audit Committee Michael Williams and Bowman changed Gunter’s title to Vice President and University Chief Compliance and Privacy Officer, removing Internal Audit (IA) from the title. 

Despite this, Gunter still had administrative oversight of Shea and his IA team. However, as the lawsuit claims, “[Shea] and the IA team continued to be insubordinate, harassing, aggressive and discriminatory towards Plaintiff.” 

As a result of the actions of Shea, Gunter “made an internal complaint with Drexel’s Human Resources department against Shea for discrimination, harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation and insubordination based on race and gender” in August 2022.

“On or about August 18, 2022,” Gunter’s therapist removed her from work and diagnosed her with “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression,” and remained out of work until October 2022. When she returned to work, no further action had been taken on Gunter’s complaint until December 2022, when Williams and Bowman “removed IA and Shea from Plaintiff’s administrative oversight through the Audit Committee.”

The lawsuit notes that Drexel issued a formal complaint against Shea in February 2023, and in March 2023, hired a third-party investigator to investigate the formal complaint that Gunter filed. 

On May 30, 2023, Shea made a formal complaint against Gunter, “alleging race and gender discrimination and harassment.” The lawsuit claims that even though Bowman is both of their supervisors, she acknowledged that Shea never complained about Gunter to her before the formal complaint was made.

A month after this incident on June 23, 2023, the lawsuit states that Gunter was removed from work again by her therapist due to “panic attacks and generalized anxiety.” At the time, Gunter was participating in individual and group therapy. Upon returning to work on August 3, 2023, Drexel provided Gunter with the accommodations, giving her two hours off every day of her four-day workweek to attend group therapy.

According to the disability discrimination lawsuit, on June 27, 2023, Gunter filed a lawsuit based on “race/color and gender discrimination,” suing Drexel for a “hostile work environment” and “disparate treatment.” This lawsuit is still ongoing at the time of publication. In addition to the lawsuit, Gunter also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “against Drexel for race/color and gender discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation” citing both the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) and Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race.

The disability lawsuit filed on April 8 directly relates to the discrimination lawsuit filed in June 2023. Gunter requested accommodations from Bowman and Drexel due to the PTSD she experienced from Shea in the workplace. After the lawsuit in June 2023, Gunter returned to work as normal, receiving accommodations from Drexel for mental health. No issues were stated in the lawsuit, until February 2024, where Gunter claims that Bowman and Drexel violated her ADA rights. 

According to the April 2024 lawsuit, in February 2024 Gunter received a “report of a compliance inquiry against Drexel from a student, who self-identified as a disabled veteran.” She brought up the issue with a junior member of the Office of General Counsel. Gunter alleges that this staff member questioned Gunter’s work, but no specific details were given.

After this interaction, the staff member went to Bowman and “[complained] of Plaintiff’s role as Chief Compliance Officer. Subsequently, Bowmen told Gunter to meet with the junior staff member via Zoom to discuss Gunter’s role in “the student reporting matter.”

Before the meeting, Gunter told Bowman that she did not feel comfortable meeting with the junior staff members present, or with turning her camera on. Gunter also asked to meet alone beforehand with Bowman but she refused.

During the meeting with Bowman and the staff member on February 27, Gunter “expressed twice that she was not comfortable with the meeting,” but appeared on video. 

On March 4, Bowman “accused Plaintiff of insubordination for ‘not participating in the Zoom meeting.” Subsequently, Gunter was placed on administration leave on March 7.

Again, Gunter filed a complaint with the EEOC and PHRC on March 7, for disability discrimination. On March 28, EEOC issued “Dismissal and Notice of Right to Sue” because “it is unlikely that EEOC will be able to complete its investigation within 180 days from the date the charge was filed.” This allowed Gunter to sue Drexel based on disability discrimination, which she did on April 8. 

For the first complaint, Gunter is alleging that despite knowing about her “disabilities related to her work environment,” Drexel and Bowman did not make reasonable accommodations for her. “Bowman denied Plaintiff reasonable accommodations of meeting with Bowman alone first before the group meeting with the subordinate junior OGC member and of meeting via telephone instead of Zoom video conference on February 27.” She argues that this is a reasonable accommodation because Drexel and Bowman “did not and cannot” establish that providing Gunter these two accommodations would have “imposed an undue hardship on Drexel’s business operations.”