Report clears VP of wrongdoing

Jackie Valley

One complainant doubts accuracy of investigation

An outside law firm investigating hostile work environment complaints against the university’s vice president of Information Services has found no evidence to support the claims.

The complaint from one former and three current Information Services employees alleges that Ed Mahon, vice president of Information Services, discriminated against them on the basis of age and gender and created a hostile work environment, according to the investigation’s report by the Roetzel & Andress firm based in Akron. The complaint was filed Oct. 20.

The four-page report concludes “While it is clear that Mr. Mahon on occasion does lose his temper and can be somewhat critical of his subordinates due to his expectations, such conduct does not rise to the level to support the type of claims alleged in the formal complaint.”

But the firm’s conclusion hasn’t satisfied one of the people who filed the complaint against Mahon with the Affirmative Action Office. Others could not comment.

Kent State’s definition of unlawful harassment

“Unlawful harassment includes intimidation, ridicule or insults that are sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent as to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or privileges provided by the University; creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working and/or learning environment; or otherwise adversely infects an individual’s work or learning opportunities. This type of discriminatory harassment applies to such conduct, which is based on an individual’s race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, natural origin, disability, military status, age, identify as a disabled veteran or veteran of the Vietnam era, or recently separated veteran.”
Source: Report by Roetzel & Andress

Willis Walker, vice president of Human Resources, said President Lester Lefton requested that an independent firm conduct the investigation because the allegations involved a vice president. Lefton was out of the office yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

“We wanted to make sure a third party took a look at it with a fair assessment of it,” Walker said. “If we didn’t, we thought people would say it (the report) was suspect.”

The firm, Roetzel & Andress, is a counsel appointed to the university by the Ohio attorney general. Kent State has used the firm for situations involving labor law and employment matters.

“We haven’t used them for this type of situation, but we have used them before,” Walker said.

When Walker received the firm’s report Wednesday, he gave copies to Lefton and the Affirmative Action Office, which sent copies to the complainants – Roberta Sikula, former associate vice president of Information Services; Tom Beitl, manager of Network and Telecommunication Services; Annette Frye, executive director of Information Services; and Jamie Jackson, director of E-Services.

“I think it was a very good report in the sense that he talked to all the people and documented it in an objective way,” said Walker, referring to Paul Jackson, the report’s author from Roetzel & Andress.

Mahon, through his assistant, referred questions about the report to University Communications and Marketing. University spokeswoman Emily Vincent, however, said she could not comment on the personnel issue.

Sikula, whose retirement Nov. 30 stemmed from an incident listed in the complaint, disagreed with the report’s findings.

“I found it highly inaccurate, but that’s all I can say,” Sikula said during a phone interview yesterday.

Frye declined to comment, citing job security concerns. The other two complainants, Beitl and Jackson, could not be reached for comment after several phone calls.

The investigation’s report, which was obtained by the Daily Kent Stater through a public record request, acknowledged that Mahon “is very direct in his supervision of employees and that many of his employees feel intimidated by his direct, demanding and straightforward style.”

According to the report, witnesses said Mahon has raised his voice during discussions and has made the following comments: “Am I overworking you?” … “Is this too much for you?”… “You are not earning your salary” and “That information is worthless to me.”

But the report said “there was simply no evidence of discrimination or creation of a legally actionable hostile environment” based on Kent State’s paragraph-long definition of unlawful harassment.

Eleven people, including Mahon and the four complainants, were interviewed during the investigation. Joseph Vitale, director of talent management for Human Resources, was the only person interviewed who does not work within Information Services.

The report states that several people interviewed said they appreciate Mahon’s direct management style and that his instances of speaking in a raised voice have been warranted.

Diversity hires and promotions by Ed Mahon 2006 – 2009

Total new hires: 27
• Female: 21
• Minority: 21
• Female Minority: 9

Total Promotions: 22
• Female: 12
• Minority: 17
• Female Minority: 8
• Handicap: 1

Source: Included in the report by
Roetzel & Andress

The report summarizes three incidents set forth by the complainants that occurred during the fall:

• The first incident referred to a meeting in early September among Mahon, Sikula and Andrea Nunley, director of Enterprise Application Services. The complaint claimed that Mahon became upset because Nunley wasn’t participating. Mahon claimed he became upset with Nunley and Sikula after learning about a financial situation. Mahon upset Nunley when he asked her about her salary and if she deserved it.

• At about the same time as the first incident, a meeting between Mahon and Frye led Mahon to raise his voice. The complaint asserted that Mahon yelled for 40 minutes, causing others nearby in the office to leave. The investigation concluded that Mahon did raise his voice but not to the extent described in the complaint.

• The third incident involved Sikula’s planned retirement and rehire arrangement by the university to satisfy her divorce decree. Sikula thought she would be rehired for three to five years in the same position. But, in the fall, she was offered employment for six months after her rehire. Sikula refused to accept those terms. Mahon said he never promised her an extended rehire. The report concluded that expectations were unclear on behalf of both parties, but Mahon did not have authority by law to rehire Sikula for employment beyond one year. Sikula’s retirement was effective Nov. 30.

Mahon apologized to the people involved in the first two incidents, according to the report.

Mahon came to Kent State in 2004 from the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he was associate vice president and chief information officer. At Kent State, he’s responsible for the architecture and operations of the information technology systems.

Sikula, who was the second person in command of the department, oversaw the implementation of the Banner system as the former associate vice president of Information Services. She had worked at Kent State for 20 years, previously serving as the University Registrar.

Contact Daily Kent Stater editor Jackie Valley at [email protected]