A North Dakota judge has ruled in support of a UND administrator involved in a discrimination case against the university’s former chief of police.
Administrative Law Judge Benjamin E. Thomas ruled Cassie Gerhardt, associate vice president of student affairs, neither harassed nor created a hostile work environment for then-Chief of Police Eric Plummer. Thomas was assigned to hear an appeal of the initial ruling that found Gerhardt clear of any wrongdoing. Administrative Law Judge Hope Hogan rendered the initial decision.
Plummer outlined several points in his appeal asking for the initial ruling in favor of Gerhardt be overturned, none of which Thomas found valid. Thomas’ ruling brings to conclusion a lengthy series of events at UND that began in February.
“Plummer has not stated any valid grounds for a reversal of (Hogan's) investigative determination,” Thomas wrote in his decision. “As such, Plummer's appeal must be dismissed and the investigative determination dated August 10, 2021, is (final).”
Plummer filed discrimination complaints against two UND administrators, Gerhardt and Cara Halgren, UND’s former vice president of student affairs, in early February. He alleged the behavior and actions of the two administrators rose to the level of discrimination, after they learned Plummer voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.
In August, Hogan delivered rulings that cleared Gerhardt, but found Halgren discriminated against Plummer because of his political beliefs. Thomas denied an appeal filed by Halgren, and she was dismissed by the university shortly thereafter. Gerhardt remains in her position at UND.
In his appeal, Plummer said the ruling in favor of Gerhardt should be overturned because the investigative report, on which Hogan based her decision, was incomplete and misleading. Thomas ruled those claims were “unfounded,” due to the extensive nature of the report, which comes in at 76 pages, and is based on a review of more than 500 pages of documents and 10 witness interviews.
Shortly after Plummer filed complaints against the two administrators, UND turned the investigation over to trainED, a Minneapolis-based company that carries out such investigations for universities. Thomas said the report investigators compiled was based on an “extensive and thorough” investigation.
Plummer also alleged that when he showed a photo of himself with Tom Ridge, former secretary of Homeland Security and former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Gerhardt and Halgren had conversations speculating about his affiliation with the Republican Party. Plummer said those conversations showed bias.
Gerhardt admitted to investigators about having such conversations, but said she was never concerned about Plummer’s political affiliation. Thomas struck down this portion of the appeal because merely speculating about a person's political beliefs of affiliation is not evidence of bias.
The appeal details a number of other allegations, including one in which Plummer raises concerns that investigators only met with three of the witnesses he provided. Thomas sided with investigators, who said they wanted to limit rumors being spread across UND, and that they only wanted to interview key witnesses and not those who would provide duplicative or irrelevant information.
In another allegation, Plummer said a statement made by Gerhardt during an Oct. 16, 2020, online meeting contributed to a hostile work environment. Plummer was responsible for sending out weather announcement emails about storms and other bad weather. After receiving one such email, Gerhardt said: “Eric, you suck, you suck for sending these emails out.”
Plummer said he didn’t know if she was joking. Gerhardt later apologized for making the statement.
Thomas ruled that even if the comment was inappropriate, it does not demonstrate it was motivated by Plummer’s political affiliation.
Thomas gave the same justification for striking down another portion of the appeal, where Plummer alleged Gerhardt used inappropriate language in front of his staff when helping them assemble face shields on Aug. 26.
According to Thomas’ ruling: “Plummer stated that when Gerhardt came to his department to assist with face shields, she cussed in front of his staff and 'did nothing but humiliate them by saying that she had a Ph.D. and she didn't know why she was, you know, doing these masks that she had a Ph.D.'”
Thomas said there was no evidence those comments stemmed from Plummer’s political affiliation.
In early August, Plummer told the Herald he left UND because of the working environment. He took a similar position at Radford University, in Radford, Va.