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Whistleblower wrongful termination suit against Globe heats up

Last year, two fired deans from Globe University / Minnesota School of Business filed unlawful discharge lawsuits claiming that they had been fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on misleading practices and ethical issues at the for-profit colleges. Under both Minnesota and federal law, employers are prohibited from retaliating against whistleblowers who come forward about perceived ethical or legal wrongdoing.

One of the lawsuits is in court this week. The plaintiff, the former dean of the medical assistant program, says she brought concerns about the school’s accreditation standards and whether it was communicating fully with students to top executives, who responded with indifference. Then, she says, they fired her and made it look like she had just been a disgruntled employee.

The former dean alleges that Globe had been violating the standards of its accreditor at the time by paying commissions to student recruiters. When the colleges switched to a new accreditor with less rigorous standards it never mentioned that fact to students. Moreover, when the less-rigorous accreditation caused Allina Health Systems, a key partner, to pull out of Globe’s externship program, students were never informed.

Externships are required for graduation, but even with many students now unable to obtain one, Globe didn’t slow enrollment. She also claims that students with criminal backgrounds were never told that a felony record might prevent them from being employable in the very fields they were training for.

Finally, she says that Globe used inflated job placement numbers in an effort to mislead students and entice them into enrolling in the for-profit programs.

A lawyer for Globe attacked her story from every angle. He presented emails implying that executives were dissatisfied how she handled Allina’s complaints about the accreditation switch. He tried to pin her with chronic lateness and of a missed class, but he could show no records of the occurrences or reprimands in her file.

Globe questioned her methodology in concluding the college’s job-placement rates were inflated and furthermore contended the allegedly inflated numbers were never actually used in any student advertising. He challenged her interpretation of the industry standard for private college accreditation, and disagreed with her assessment that notifying students of a change in accreditation was required by law. Finally, he asserted that the student handbook contained the required information about the impact of felony records.

In any unlawful discharge case, arguments are bound to arise about whether the person was illegally terminated or simply fired for cause. In this case, Globe’s reputation is on the line, and the argument will be fierce. The attorneys told MPR news they expect the trial to continue into next week.

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