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Purdue loses appeal bid to shield discrimination, harassment report

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An appellate panel had harsh words for Purdue University’s conduct in shielding a report investigating a former chancellor’s complaint of gender discrimination and harassment against former university president France Cordova.

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday affirmed a Tippecanoe Circuit ruling that Purdue could not argue attorney-client privilege or site the work-product doctrine to block the release of an independent investigator’s report to former Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne chancellor Michael Wartell.

“Purdue frets that recognizing equitable estoppel as an exception to the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine ‘would have a chilling effect on the very principles on which [they] were founded,’” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel in a footnote. “On the contrary, one would hope that it would have a chilling effect on the tactics used by Purdue in this case.”

Wartell filed a formal complaint in 2011 alleging harassment and discrimination against Cordova, claiming among other things that Cordova pointed to a picture of Wartell during a meeting and said, “I am going to replace this one with a woman.” After he reached mandatory retirement age of 65, Wartell was replaced by current chancellor Vicky Carwein.

When Wartell filed his complaint, a process was agreed to by all parties in which an independent investigator would be hired. Indianapolis attorney John Trimble accepted the matter, but Purdue refused to allow Wartell to inspect the report produced after the investigation.

Wartell then sued Purdue, prevailing at the trial court and prompting the instant case, Purdue University v. Michael A. Wartell, 79A02-1304-PL-342.

“Trimble conducted the investigation by interviewing individuals, drafting a report, and submitting it to the Panel (of Purdue Trustees) without disclosing an advocate role,” Crone wrote. “In other words, Trimble conducted the investigation as an independent investigator,” so no attorney-client privilege exists and the work-product doctrine may not prevent disclosure.

But the court ruled that even if Trimble was acting as Purdue’s legal counsel, “Purdue represented to Wartell that it would appoint Trimble as an independent investigator, but then concealed from Wartell that it intended to retain Trimble as its legal counsel; thus, Wartell never had an opportunity to object.

“Based on these facts and circumstances, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in ruling that Purdue should be equitably estopped from invoking the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine as to Wartell,” the court concluded.
 

 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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