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Mark LoParco, head of UM Dining, left, listens with other faculty and staff members during a campus meeting last year.

A former employee of the University of Montana is suing UM and UM Dining's Mark LoParco alleging discrimination based on gender and disability and nine other counts.

Kathleen "Kate" Slack, who worked for UM Dining from November 2011 to March 2016, earlier filed a complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau, along with Rebecca "Becca" Shern, against UM and LoParco making similar allegations.

LoParco subjected employees to "unwanted harassment, sexual and otherwise," gave men preferential treatment, and tried to force Slack out, according to the complaint.

"LoParco's abhorrent treatment of women specifically, his terrible treatment of employees generally, and his disastrous management of UMD makes him to UM Dining what (President Donald) Trump is to the U.S.," the complaint said.

UM counsel Lucy France said Tuesday she had not received the complaint, filed this week in Missoula County District Court, but she would not comment on pending litigation.

However, LoParco has been lauded by campus officials as a "dynamo" and also honored by UM for his work in sustainability as well as by a national association for his leadership in the collegiate food industry. LoParco planned to retire this month after working as head of UM Dining for 25 years.

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In the court document, Slack alleges LoParco tampered with witnesses after her complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau became public.

In April 2017, UM Dining received correspondence noting the defendant asked his staff to "write 'counter articles' to the Missoulian explaining he's the victim," according to the court document.

The complaint also outlines numerous examples of alleged discrimination, including the following:

• In 2011, Slack discovered she had vision problems and could not drive at night, and UM Dining accommodated her condition, the complaint said. But Slack had a foot surgery in December 2015, and when she returned to work in February 2016, her supervisor told her that her job had changed, and she would be doing tasks such as waittressing and cooking, "problematic because she would still be in a boot."

• Slack learned her schedule also had changed to end at 7 p.m., "even more problematic since she has night blindness and cannot see to drive in the dark." When she met with LoParco, he told her he actually wanted her to work until 9 p.m., and he said "she had to choose to either take the job the way it is or to quit."

The court document notes "the Montana Human Rights Bureau's administrative remedies for Kate Slack have been exhausted."

Other allegations include violating the Montana Human Rights Act; a hostile work environment; negligent supervision of employees; breach of obligation of good faith and fair dealing; negligent infliction of emotional distress; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and actual malice. 

"It is one thing to have a supervisor who is insensitive and makes jokes at the expense of an employee," the complaint said. "Although distasteful, alone it is not enough to make an employee's mental suffering rise to the required level.

"Mr. LoParco's behavior, detailed many times in this complaint, made Ms. Slack's entire experience at the university 'severely distressing,' far beyond what a 'reasonable person would expect to endure.'"

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.