Former law dean takes legal action against NIU

By Lindsey Salvatelli

DeKALB — A hearing for a temporary restraining order filed by the former College of Law dean against NIU is scheduled for Sept. 1.

Eric Dannenmaier, former College of Law dean, sought a temporary restraining order against NIU to block officials from releasing information regarding an investigation into complaints of sexual harassment made against Dannenmaier by two former employees.

Greg Brady, acting vice president and general counsel, notified Dannenmaier’s attorney Jennifer Murphy he intended to respond to three FOIA requests the university received about Dannenmaier by releasing a redacted version of the investigation’s findings as well as the appeal decision, according to the petition, as he was required to do so by law.

Dannenmaier’s attorney filed a temporary restraining order July 6 that was granted by Judge Bradley Waller of the 23rd Judicial Circuit Court the following day.

The injunction seeks to protect Dannenmaier from harm to his professional and personal reputation, according to the petition.

Some of the information contained in the investigations is exempt under Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act statute, according to Dannenmaier’s petition.

The two investigations contain conversations between Dannenmaier and the two former employees that occurred outside of work hours; Dannenmaier’s attorneys claim that since those conversations did not occur on the job, releasing such information is tantamount to “an unjustified intrusion upon his seclusion,” according to the petition.

NIU’s investigation was conducted like an adjudication process, which is one of the exemptions under Illinois Freedom of Information statutes. An adjudication process is a way in which to formally settle a dispute outside of the court system.

Under the statute, final outcomes of adjudications related to employee grievances and disciplinary cases may only be released if a disciplinary action was imposed. Dannenmaier resigned from his position before any disciplinary action was made.

The petition alleges documentation produced during the adjudication process are “incomplete, in many ways inaccurate and make assertions out of context” because the adjudication process didn’t allow cross-examination or grant Dannenmaier the opportunity to interview witnesses, according to the petition.

Dannenmaier’s informal management style “was not well received by some of his colleagues in the law school” and his decision to hire the two former employees who made the complaints “was also criticized by some,” according to the petition.

The petition also alleges texts shared between Dannenmaier and the two former employees show “a strong productive relationship,” a lack of complaints signed “tangible or electronic complaint” against Dannenmaier and a lack of complaints made directly to Dannenmaier about a hostile working environment, according to the petition.

Dannenmaier went on paid administrative leave Feb. 15 after the complaints of sexual harassment were made. A Title XI investigation concluded April 14 that stated that it was “more likely than not” that Dannenmaier had created a hostile working environment “by using comments and language of a sexual nature in the workplace,” according to memoranda sent from Sarah Adamski, associate director of Investigations, Affirmative Action and Equity Compliance, to the former employees April 15.

Dannenmaier appealed the findings April 28. Anne Kaplan, vice president for Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development, concurred with the investigation’s findings in her June 9 appeal decision to Dannenmaier.

“The issue here is not whether Dean Dannenmaier’s comments were sexual, overly intrusive and inappropriate — many were — but whether he knew or had reason to know that they were unwelcome,” Kaplan wrote in the appeal decision.”…It is the dean who is [the] senior party in this situation and the Dean who represents or should represent the values of the university.”

Dannenmaier submitted his resignation letter June 27.

Both parties are expected to appear before Waller 1:30 p.m. Sept. 1 at the DeKalb County Courthouse,133 W. State St., in Sycamore for the hearing.

Correction: This article previously read “A hearing for a lawsuit in which NIU is being sued for a temporary restraining order by the former College of Law dean is scheduled for Sept. 1.” The Northern Star would like to correct that the former College of Law dean took legal action against NIU through a temporary restraining order but is not suing the university. The article and headline have been changed to reflect that correction.