Crime & Courts

Jury awards ex-Newman University professor more than $800,000 in gender discrimination case

A federal jury has awarded more than $800,000 to a former Newman University professor who sued the school over claims she was intentionally discriminated and retaliated against because she is a woman.

The lawsuit is the first to be resolved of five that were filed by ex-employees claiming unfair termination.

The jury on Monday found in favor of Cindy Louthan, former assistant professor of elementary education at the private Catholic college, after a five-day trial in federal court in Wichita.

The award includes $26,551.50 in back pay for Louthan; $50,000 in compensatory damages for pain, suffering and mental anguish; and $725,000 in punitive damages, according to court records.

Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant for wrongful conduct and act as a deterrent to others.

The verdict also allows Louthan to seek reinstatement at Newman.

She plans to do so, said her attorney, Sean McGivern of Wichita-based law firm Graybill and Hazlewood. Newman hired her in 2014, according to court records.

Today’s verdict was vindication for Dr. Louthan. It cleared her good name, and it demonstrated to Newman University that compliance with the law means more than talking about its policies,” McGivern said in an emailed statement.

Newman University, in a prepared statement, said the school is “disappointed in the jury’s decision” and is “considering our appeal options.”

“Newman University’s mission and core values insist community members respect the dignity of others and interact with integrity and honesty with all. Since this case involves employee matters we will have no further comment at this time,” the statement says.

An earlier emailed statement Newman University interim president Teresa Hall Bartels sent to faculty and staff said the jury awarded Louthan “$765,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $75,000 in various other damages” — about $39,000 more than the amount listed on the jury’s verdict form.

Newman University spokesman Clark Schafer did not immediately respond to messages asking the school about the discrepancy.

McGivern said the court will award attorneys fees and expenses to Louthan at a later date. That amount has not been determined yet, he said.

Louthan sued Newman in June 2018 after she says her supervisor, who “demonstrated an attitude of hostility towards women,” harassed and treated her differently than her colleagues because of her sex. Louthan claimed the supervisor gave her a performance improvement plan a week after she complained about his conduct to a member of Newman’s Human Resources Department.

She says Newman failed to investigate her concerns, refused to remove the performance improvement plan from her employment file and then punished her for speaking out by ending her employment.

A March 2018 letter notifying Louthan that her annual employment contract wasn’t being renewed “gave no grounds for separation” and said the decision couldn’t be appealed, her lawsuit says.

Newman has never provided a convincing reason for the nonrenewal,” Louthan’s attorney, McGivern, said in his written statement. “... Newman defended the case by accusing Dr. Louthan of manufacturing complaints to cloak herself with the protections of the federal civil rights laws.”

Louthan is among five ex-Newman employees who sued the university over their terminations in less than a year. Three of those lawsuits — filed by former Title IX investigator John Walker, ex-human resources director Mandy Greenfield, and former volleyball coach Destiny Clark — are still pending in federal court.

A fourth, filed by former social work professor Sue Ellen Gardner, is pending in Sedgwick County District Court. It’s scheduled to go to trial in August, according to court records.

Newman University is located at 3100 McCormick in Wichita. It has about 1,800 graduate and undergraduate students.

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.