Former Purdue prof secures partial reversal in dismissed discrimination complaint

A former Purdue University assistant professor who sued her then-supervisor after he allegedly retaliated against her when she rejected what she claimed were his sexual advances has partially secured a reversal from the Court of Appeals of Indiana on the dismissal of her claims.

In December 2018, Kim Lloyd sued the Purdue University and Lawrence Kuznar for being terminated from her employment as an assistant professor at Purdue University-Fort Wayne after she filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Lloyd accused Kuznar, then-chair of PFW’s sociology and anthropology department and her supervisor, of making unwanted sexual advances toward her and inappropriately touching her. She also claimed that, after taking leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act and rejecting Kuznar’s advances, Kuznar retaliated against her by belittling her in front of their colleagues and sabotaging her three-year review meeting.

Kuznar’s actions violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the FMLA, Lloyd alleged. As a result, she claimed to have suffered “physical pain, emotional distress, mental anguish, lost income, lost job-related benefits, humiliation, embarrassment, inconvenience and other financial damages and injuries.”

In response, Kuznar filed a counterclaim against Lloyd for defamation regarding an email she sent to the PFW dean and several faculty members, asserting it falsely accused him of abusing his position as department chair, harassing Lloyd, and requesting “highly inappropriate favors” from her.

Seven months passed with no response from Lloyd as to Purdue’s discovery requests, prompting it to move to compel asking the court to order Lloyd to provide the long overdue responses. Lloyd’s then-counsel at Christopher Myers and Associates withdrew from the case, saying that it had made unsuccessful efforts to contact Lloyd and citing her repeated failures to respond.

The Allen Superior Court eventually dismissed of Lloyd’s claims against Purdue when she twice failed to appear, also issuing judgment against Lloyd with respect to Kuznar’s counterclaim, finding that she owed him in $603,813 in damages.

In April 2021, Lloyd moved under Trial Rule 60(B) seeking to set aside the trial court’s dismissal of her complaint and the default judgment entered against her on Kuznar’s counterclaim, which the trial court denied. Lloyd argued that she had never been notified, but the trial court ruled that Lloyd was properly served at her Fort Wayne address and that she failed to make a prima facie showing of a meritorious defense to the allegations contained in Kuznar’s counterclaim, among other things.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed the denial of the Trial Rule 60(B) motion to the extent it sought to set aside the dismissal of Lloyd’s complaint. It found she could not revive her claims because she stopped participating in the litigation and failed to keep the trial court apprised of her address.

However, the COA found the trial court erred in denying Lloyd’s motion with respect to the default judgment entered against her on Kuznar’s counterclaim.

“Just as the plaintiff in (Front Row Motors, LLC v. Jones, 5 N.E.3d 753, 758 (Ind. 2014)) was aware Johnson was not at his home address, Kuznar knew Lloyd was not receiving mail at her Fort Wayne Address,” Judge Melissa May wrote. “…The copy of the order granting Attorney Myers’ motion to withdraw mailed to Lloyd’s Fort Wayne Address was returned to the trial court with a forwarding address listed in Washington State. The order setting a sanctions hearing on Purdue’s motion to compel was similarly returned. Yet, Kuznar served Lloyd only at her Fort Wayne Address when he filed his motion for default judgment.

“Even though Attorney Myers relayed an email address for Lloyd, the certificate of service on Kuznar’s motion for default judgment does not indicate that he emailed Lloyd a copy,” it continued. “Here, Kuznar’s notice to Lloyd of his intention to seek a default judgment was a mere gesture and not reasonably calculated to inform Lloyd of his action. Like in (Moore v. Terre Haute First National Bank, 582 N.E.2d 474, 479 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991), reh’g denied), we cannot condone such an activity.”

Finding that the trial court held Lloyd to a higher bar than she was required to clear, the COA reversed, holding that she was entitled to relief under both Trial Rule 60(B)(6) and Trial Rule 60(B)(8).

It therefore remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion in Kim M. Lloyd v. Lawrence Kuznar and Trustees of Purdue University, 21A-CT-1338.

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