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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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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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