BILLINGS - A fundraiser at Rocky Mountain College has filed a lawsuit against the school and President Michael Mace, describing him as a violent, threatening boss who drove away employees and potential donors.
Director of Development Shari VanDelinder filed the civil lawsuit in state District Court on Monday, alleging assault and infliction of emotional distress by Mace. It also alleges the private college failed to provide a safe workplace and was negligent in its supervision of Mace and in retaining him as president. She is seeking punitive damages against both.
Mace said the lawsuit is "a personnel matter, and there's no comment."
Barbara Skelton, chairwoman of the university's board of trustees, said VanDelinder's concerns were taken seriously and investigated.
"The board offered a fair resolution and is disappointed she did not avail herself of that remedy," Skelton said in an e-mail to The Billings Gazette, adding that "the board of trustees hopes to move forward with the mission of the college under the leadership of President Mike Mace."
According to the lawsuit, VanDelinder has suffered severe headaches, insomnia and panic attacks because of the way she has been treated and she remains on medical leave after a psychiatrist last month diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The lawsuit chronicles VanDelinder's increasingly successful efforts in raising money for the college and alleges Mace yelled and screamed at her, went into tirades in front of donors, maligned VanDelinder to her face and to others, pounded his fists on tables during meetings, backed her up to a door while yelling at her, and threw a chair into a bookcase.
VanDelinder said she met with Mace several times asking him to change his behavior and then spoke with human resource officials and Skelton.
On March 23, Skelton found that Mace had not discriminated against women nor had singled out VanDelinder for poor treatment, but that VanDelinder should have the chance to be managed by someone other than Mace.
The lawsuit says at least four people in charge of the development office have left since Mace was hired in 2005, along with 15 other people who reported directly to Mace.
The lawsuit states that the reasons the employees left have not been disclosed, but many have signed confidentiality agreements and received settlements, some in the tens of thousands of dollars.
"However, the trustees have been informed about the reasons some employees resigned," the lawsuit states. "The reasons included refusing to deal any longer with Mace's inappropriate behaviors, such as bullying, making derogatory and demeaning comments and spreading false rumors about employees and others, depriving employees of information and excluding them from meetings essential to their jobs.
"One or more trustees have resigned from the board in protest over the board's failure to address Mace's inappropriate treatment of employees," the lawsuit charges.