DETROIT (AP) — The University of Michigan paid nearly $200,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing the school’s chief academic officer of wrongly laying off an employee partly because he chose instead to retain a female researcher with whom he allegedly had an inappropriate relationship, the settlement shows.
The 2004 lawsuit was settled the following year when Martin Philbert was an associate professor in the university’s School of Public Health, the terms released Monday show. Philbert is now the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald issued a statement after the school released the settlement to The Detroit News through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Discovery in the case confirmed that the plaintiff was not claiming there was a sexual relationship and the settlement was not based on any evidence of such a relationship,” Fitzgerald said, later adding that “It is critical that the investigators be allowed to collect the facts.”
Philbert, appointed provost in 2017 and paid $570,000 a year, was placed on paid leave Jan. 21. The move came after the university received several sexual misconduct allegations. The complaints do not involve students, Fitzgerald noted.
The lawsuit said Philbert, then a toxicology professor, recruited Thomas Komorowski in 2001 to be a research associate in his laboratory. However, Philbert laid off Komorowski two years later. Komorowski subsequently filed a wrongful termination lawsuit that included scores of allegations including age and sex discrimination, conspiracy and others.
Komorowski’s attorney, Robert Vercruysse, declined to comment.
The school’s attorneys contended that Komorowski was let go because grant funding for his position ran out. In suit filings, lawyers said Komorowski received a written warning about low productivity after his first year.
Komorowski mentioned in depositions that the decision also stemmed from Philbert’s alleged relationship with his female colleague, who moved to Chicago and worked from home.
The depositions included questions about behavior in the laboratory. The alleged behavior included hugs between Philbert and the female researcher, an incident in which she patted him on the backside and a nude photo of her.
Philbert and the woman were married to other people and denied any inappropriate behavior, the documents show.