EXCLUSIVE | Complainants share their stories: Female 2 felt ‘manipulated’ by dean


EXCLUSIVE | Complainants share their stories: Female 2 felt “manipulated” by dean

By Ian Tancun

Eric Dannenmaier, former College of Law dean, resigned June 27 following an investigation into his alleged sexual harassment of two former College of Law employees, both of which made complaints against him. Dannenmaier filed an injunction July 6 seeking to keep the details of the investigation sealed, but both the individuals who filed the complaints provided the Northern Star with copies of an April 14 memo they received from Sarah Adamski, associate director of Investigations, Affirmative Action and Equity Compliance, which contained the findings of the investigation, as well as the summaries of their two interviews with Title IX investigators. The two individuals who filed the complaints will be referred to as Female 1 and Female 2 to protect their identities, as the investigations concluded they were “more likely than not” sexually harassed by Dannenmaier through his comments and language of a sexual nature in the workplace, according to the April 14 memo. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights requires institutions to use a preponderance of the evidence standard, which is defined as “more likely than not” when investigating complaints of discrimination and harassment.

DeKALB | During her first day working at NIU in August, a former College of Law employee said she was subjected to inappropriate comments from Eric Dannenmaier, former College of Law Dean — comments that continued until her resignation in February.

Female 2’s interviews with investigators documented a series of comments and behaviors from Dannenmaier the investigation found created a “hostile work environment,” according to the April 14 memo.

Details of the complaint

Female 2 said Dannenmaier frequently asked her questions about her relationship with her former boyfriend, an NIU law student at that time who she had been dating prior to her employment at NIU. Dannenmaier was “very upset” upon her disclosure of the relationship, she said.

She said Dannenmaier asked if her boyfriend was a “f— buddy,” an allegation Dannenmaier denied. Witnesses provided testimonies that corroborated Dannenmaier’s use of this term, according to Adamski’s April 14 memo. From that point on, he “would ask details about their sex life,” according to the Feb. 15 interview summary.

During a September car ride to look at a new Rockford clinic location, Female 2 said Dannenmaier asked a series of questions about her sexual practices, including who she had sexual relations with. She said he also asked her what kind of birth control she used, and when she tried to “divert the conversation,” she said Dannienmaier asked again, at which point she told him it was “none of your business,” according to the Feb. 15 interview summary.

While working in his office at NIU, Female 2 said Dannenmaier would frequently drink beer, according to her interviews with Adamski and Johnson. She said this drinking would typically start “between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. and would end as late as 10:00 p.m.” She said he would call these “strategy summits,” in which Dannenmaier, Female 2 and occasionally two other College of Law staff members would talk about various projects. She said Dannenmaier would frequently get drunk and “ramble on about work and his personal life,” according to the Feb. 15 interview summary.

When asked if officials were aware of this allegation and whether they took any action regarding it, NIU spokesperson Lisa Miner told the Northern Star she could not provide any comment regarding the findings outlined in the report because of pending litigation.

The decision to file a complaint

In the April 14 memo, Female 2 was quoted as saying she was “creeped out” by Dannenmaier and the working environment he created. She told the Northern Star this description was not the most accurate representation of what she disclosed in the interviews with investigators.

“He got very controlling and manipulative and had told us when we first started that the staff was all upset that he hired us and that we shouldn’t communicate with them directly, that we should be communicating through him always and never contact any of the other faculty members on our own,” Female 2 said. “We became more and more isolated from everybody else, which I think is probably a drastically better word than ‘creeped out’ — that we just felt manipulated and isolated and very controlled.”

Female 2 said she made plans to leave NIU as a direct result of Dannenmaier’s behavior after months of being subjected to inappropriate comments. In December, Female 1, the other complainant, decided she wanted to file an official complaint after comparing stories with Female 2. It was a course of action Female 2 initially declined to pursue.

“[Female 1] had said that she wanted to make a complaint; I told her I didn’t because it’s my experience these things never actually stay confidential and the whole world would eventually find out,” Female 2 said.

It was Dannenmaier himself, however, that ultimately changed her mind, she said.

Female 1 had already given notice she would be leaving NIU in February, thus the process to hire her replacement began while she was still at NIU. Conversations she had with Dannenmaier about the candidates helped change her mind about not filing a complaint, as he showed particular interest in the younger female candidate, Female 2 said.

“He asked how old she was, he asked what she looked like, if I was Facebook friends with her, if he could try and recognize her from any sort of summer picnic that we had right after graduation that he had attended,” Female 2 said. “When he figured out who she was and that she’s a young, attractive female, he was like ‘oh, I should bring her in to interview.”

It was after Dannenmaier zeroed in on this specific candidate that Female 2 said she decided to also file a complaint.

“When he was going to then replace me and [Female 1] with other young women, we figured we would make the complaint to hopefully prevent him from continuing to do this,” Female 2 said.

Female 2 said Dannenmaier was placed on administrative leave before he had a chance to hire her replacement. The position was a temporary supportive professional staff position and did not require a search; therefore no official search was conducted, Miner said.

NIU’s handling of the complaint

While Female 2 said officials took immediate action after the complaint was filed and the Title IX staff was very supportive, she is disappointed she and Female 1 were not provided the full investigation report or informed about whether Dannenmaier would remain at NIU and his subsequent resignation.

Female 2 shared these concerns in a June 2 email to acting President Lisa Freeman, according to copies of the email correspondence she shared with the Northern Star.

“I will always question whether I am offered an opportunity because of my qualifications and fantastic work ethic or if I am being offered opportunities simply because of the way I look,” Female 2 wrote to Freeman regarding her experiences with Dannenmaier. “I will always be hesitant to go on business trips or to be near a coworker who has a drink.”

In his June 27 resignation letter, Dannenmaier said he was “truly shocked” by the complaints made about him. Female 2 said College of Law faculty members reached out to her and Female 1 upon hearing they were leaving prior to them filing their complaints to make sure Dannenmaier was not the reason for their departure.

“Even if it was shocking to him, it wasn’t shocking to anybody else,” Female 2 said. “Everybody else thought [that] everybody else was aware it was happening … people were shocked at the extent to which it happened.”

Female 2 said she is talking to a lawyer about possibly filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against Dannenmaier and NIU.

NIU Spokesperson Lisa Miner provided the Northern Star the following statement when reached for comment on this story.

“NIU took immediate action when a complaint was made and conducted a thorough investigation,” Miner said in an email. “NIU arranged for a timely resolution demonstrating that NIU holds employees at every level accountable for their behavior.”

Multiple requests made to Eric Dannenmaier and his attorney Jennifer Murphy to comment for this story were unanswered.