Judge rules former UND police chief faced discrimination over political beliefs
Former UND Chief of Police Eric Plummer resigned from his position in February after filing complaints against UND executives Cara Halgren, vice president of student affairs, and Cassie Gerhardt, associate vice president of student affairs and diversity. Plummer alleges the two administrators changed their behavior toward him in 2016 after learning he voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election that year. Halgren has appealed the ruling.
An administrative law judge investigating a complaint filed against two UND administrators by the university’s former chief of police found one of them did not harass him or create a hostile working environment. However, the judge found the administrator discriminated against the chief of police based on his political views.
Former UND Police Chief Eric Plummer resigned from his position in February after filing complaints against UND executives Cara Halgren, vice president of student affairs, and Cassie Gerhardt, associate vice president of student affairs and diversity. Plummer alleges the two administrators changed their behavior toward him in 2016 after learning he voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election that year.
In reviewing the investigation, Judge Hope Hogen found Halgren discriminated against Plummer based on his political views, following a 2016 conversation at the Northside Cafe during which Halgren asked Plummer who he had voted for in that year's presidential election.
“The election was a turning point in the relationship and by Halgren’s own admission, she could not, and did not, treat Plummer the same after learning he voted for Donald Trump,” Hogen wrote in a 12-page decision. “This was a change in the conditions of Plummer’s employment as it negatively affected Plummer’s interaction with the Student Affairs department and Halgren, who headed that department.”
Hogen's ruling stated Halgren's conduct does not constitute harassment as defined by the university, as there is no pattern of offensive jokes, physical assaults and threats, among other criteria, that interfere with Plummer's work performance. The ruling indicates the same for Plummer's claim that Halgren created a hostile work environment. According to the ruling, Plummer's relations were impacted in dealing with the Student Affairs department, which was only one aspect of his job. There was no evidence to indicate Plummer was prevented from performing his other work duties.
The judge’s ruling was obtained from UND by Forum Communications Columnist Rob Port through state open records laws.
UND spokesman David Dodds told the Herald that Halgren is appealing that ruling. Citing the “open and developing” nature of the appeal, Dodds said UND cannot offer comment on the situation. Meloney Linder, vice president of marketing and communications, said she did not believe the administrative law judge has issued findings about Gerhardt.
Plummer left his position as UND's chief of police and associate vice president for public safety and accepted a similar role at Radford University in Radford, Va., in February.
As a result of the complaint and ensuing investigation, UND President Andrew Armacost relieved Halgren of two committee assignments: co-chair of the Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and as captain of the section of UND’s ONE Strategic Plan dealing with inclusivity. The sanctions were included in a Feb. 18 letter sent to Halgren from Armacost, and obtained by the Herald through an open records request.
The letter revolved around statements made by Halgren and Plummer in a Jan. 28 meeting held to repair the professional relationship between them. The meeting was attended by Halgren, Plummer, Armacost and Jed Shivers, vice president of finance and operations.
In the meeting, Halgren stated that her political beliefs caused her to treat Plummer differently. The letter quotes Halgren as saying “I can’t change the way I feel just to get along.” Plummer reportedly responded to the statement by saying he would resign, to which Halgren reportedly said “I’m not going to take responsibility for your decision to resign.”
In the letter, Armacost wrote that Halgren’s statements led him to believe that she discriminated against Plummer based on his political beliefs, which he noted is a violation of university policy.
In three subsequent meetings in January and February, as detailed by the letter, Halgren appeared to walk back her position. She told Armacost she didn’t mean to cite political differences as her reason for her change in treatment of Plummer, and that her comment about not assuming responsibility for Plummer’s assertion he would resign was made in reaction to what she believed was a “controlling statement” by the former police chief.
Halgren told Armacost the reason for the change in her relationship with Plummer was in relation to her role of vice president, a position she assumed in 2017.
Furthermore, Halgren was not aware Plummer had received an offer of employment at another university.
Armacost wrote that he accepted Halgren didn’t mean what she said in the meeting, despite using language that was “quite specific.” Armacost wrote that he was able to bridge the gap between what she said about Plummer and her later clarifications, given that she admitted to making mistakes in her statement and her previous work history at UND.
“My assessment of your work over the last seven months allows me to make that leap as you have demonstrated good judgment and have shown me no previous indications of political bias,” Armacost wrote.
The letter indicated Armacost would reconsider his sanction pending the result of the investigation of the complaint. It is unclear if Halgren remains off those committee assignments.
In a March 15 letter to Halgren, Armacost outlined how the investigation would proceed, and that he would not participate in fact-finding or the preparation of the investigative report. Armacost said the result of the judicial finding could potentially be more severe than removing Halgren from committee assignments.
The complaint was handled by a pair of investigators from a division of the Lathrop GPM law firm, based in Minneapolis. That division, called trainED, offers compliance and investigative services for institutions of higher education. The report was then sent to Hogen for a decision.
Aside from Plummer’s complaint, only one other complaint has been filed against Halgren and Gerhardt. The two administrators were found to not be in violation of sharing information about people who had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as those who did not get tested.
Halgren and Gerhardt were named in a Jan. 12 report made through UND’s fraud hotline. The allegation was not made specifically about a violation of HIPPA, a federal health privacy law, but about sharing testing information “outside of a need to know” basis. An internal investigation indicated Halgren and Gerhardt are not considered to be a “covered entity” as defined by HIPPA.
The investigation determined the administrators did not share specific information about students, staff and faculty, though they did “nudge” people to lead by example by getting tested. In particular, one person nudged by the administrators was Plummer.
In his complaint, Plummer indicated Halgren discontinued breakfast meetings with him following the conversation about voting in the 2016 presidential election. This, Plummer said, “severely impacted” his ability to develop professional relationships with people in the Student Affairs department. Over the next four years, Plummer alleges Halgren’s interactions with him grew increasingly unprofessional.
Plummer said Halgren was aided in creating a hostile environment by Gerhardt, whom he said referred to him in a demeaning manner, including being introduced to Linder as a “part-time” police chief. Plummer also said Gerhardt intentionally left him out of a COVID-19 town hall meeting for UND students after he participated in a similar meeting for faculty and staff on the same day.