Ousted UConn professor wins 11-year whistleblower case

Luke Weinstein was an assistant professor-in-residence at the UConn School of Business, battling the Dean, when he and I first spoke more than a decade ago.

Shortly before that, in the summer of 2010, Weinstein was relieved of his duties as head of the UConn Innovation Accelerator, a program that provided students with hands-on experience in start-up companies, despite his strong track records. performance.

The reason, he told me at the time: He had complained that Dean Christopher Earley’s shifts involving graduate students working at the accelerator violated labor laws and threatened the program; and that Earley was wrongly giving favorable treatment to his wife, a tenured professor in the management department at the business school, where Weinstein taught.

Weinstein had come to academia late in his career, having co-founded and run several tech companies, including two in Connecticut. He had joined the faculty in 2007, a year before earning his doctorate at UConn – a highly unusual hire.

At the end of 2011, Weinstein was unemployed, not reappointed as a professor in residence. Earley left for Purdue University in Indiana. And Weinstein filed a lawsuit against Earley and UConn.

Now, after a remarkable 11-year legal journey, including two trips to the 2nd United States Circuit Court of Appeals, a state judge has ordered UConn to reinstate Weinstein; pay him $735,867 for lost salary and benefits; and pay legal fees that may total $400,000 or more.

At 68, living on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, Weinstein told me that returning to his old job was not at all symbolic.

“I can’t wait to get back to UConn and get back to teaching,” he said. “I always said the facts were 98% in my favour, which meant that in the justice system I had a 50-50 chance of winning.”

UConn did not say whether it would appeal the June 30 ruling by Superior Court Judge A. Susan Peck, who found that UConn and Earley retaliated against Weinstein under the Criminal Code Act. Connecticut whistleblowers by not reappointing him to his teaching position.

Other state and federal courts have previously dismissed several of Weinstein’s claims, including that UConn and Earley violated his First Amendment rights. But as Weinstein’s attorney, Jacques Parenteau, said, “It only takes one liability issue to entitle you to compensation.”

The University is disappointed with this decision regarding the only remaining claim asserted by the plaintiff, particularly given the long procedural history in this case, which includes the dismissal of several other claims he has raised,” the door said. UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz in an emailed statement Wednesday.

Whether this case ends here or continues its tortured story, it shows incredible persistence on Weinstein’s part. It also highlights UConn’s reluctance to back down or even investigate Weinstein’s initial claims despite his formal demands with what Peck called compelling evidence.

Earley, for example, wrote an email to Weinstein, copying the others, shortly after Weinstein opposed changes that cut resources and turned students working as accelerator employees into college fellows. .

“I don’t want to hear any more about the matter of labor law or the stock market,” Earley wrote. “I’m getting tired of the roadblocks I’ve been up against and I see it as counterproductive to what we’re trying to achieve.”

Two months later, Earley refused to rehire Weinstein as director of the accelerator. Weinstein told Rachel Rubin, then director of the UConn Compliance Office, that he believed he had been retaliated against as a whistleblower. Rather than investigate, Rubin suggested he file a complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity, Peck wrote in his 58-page decision.

“Senior members of the School of Business and University Administration…disregarded their responsibility under the UConn Code of Conduct and the State Code of Ethics,” Peck wrote, “by failing to protect Complainant as a whistleblower”.

Peck called the seven reasons Earley and UConn gave for not reappointing Weinstein to his teaching job a pretext. She called Earley’s testimony at the recent trial “evasive, inconsistent and simply unreliable on key points.”

Does the case illustrate the type of insider culture that causes so many problems in many organizations? That’s the view of Parenteau, whose firm is Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau LLC of Hartford and New London.

“Luke was just trying to protect the university from trouble,” he said, “and then the UConn administration circled the cars.”

It’s possible Earley just didn’t see Weinberg as a team player, as Earley suggested in a 2010 email explaining why he cut Weinberg’s accelerator job. Isn’t that a reasonable reason not to deport someone? Weinstein was not a starter and his contract was over.

No, not if the employee has made credible legal or ethical allegations that the university has not investigated. Peck cited other examples of faculty members complaining or objecting to Earley’s favoritism of his wife, Elaine Mosakowski.

“Dean Earley has developed a pattern of retaliatory behavior against anyone who crosses swords with [his] wife,” Peck wrote.

Not one to back down, Weinstein years earlier had seen his divorce case go all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled against him 3-2 on a matter involving assets from the sale of his estate. ‘a company.

His UConn case began in state court in 2011, quickly moved to federal court based on constitutional claims, and was returned to state court in 2016 after two federal appeals court rulings in New York.

Weinstein, meanwhile, taught strategy and entrepreneurship for four years until 2016 at the Coast Guard Academy. But at 62, he couldn’t find college work after that gig ended.

Back when we were speaking in late 2010 or early 2011, Weinstein was also warning about changes Earley made to a famous UConn-General Electric partnership at Stamford called edgelab, which offered students the opportunity to work with professors in UConn and rank GE leaders on real projects. .

Shortly thereafter, edgelab ended — not part of Weinstein’s case, but an illustration, he said then and now, of his perspective. The Innovation Accelerator, inspired by edgelab, ended less than two years later.

“The real people who paid the price were the students who no longer had the unique experience of a semester at IA or edgelab,” Weinstein told me.

He recalls a UConn employee in 2011 being told by an administrator that his case would die a long time in court. “You don’t know Luke Weinstein,” the employee told the administrator.

“That’s the thing I’m most proud of is that I succeeded,” he said on Tuesday.

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