UNCC whistleblower questions handling of complaint

UNCC whistleblower questions handling of complaint

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A former employee at the University of North Carolina Charlotte is speaking publicly for the first time since, he says, administrators at both UNCC and the UNC General Administration failed to properly investigate allegations he made against senior administrators at UNCC.

Walker Todd worked at UNCC in the school's IT security department.

He sent an email to attorneys at the UNC General Administration office containing allegations he felt he was making under the state's whistleblower law in September 2016.

But, a WBTV investigation has found, attorneys at UNC-GA promptly forwarded the complaint back to UNCC, where some of the very people Todd was attempting to blow the whistle on had a hand in investigating his allegations.

Todd decided to begin taking steps towards becoming a whistleblower after his immediate department supervisor, John Cline, was fired—he says unjustly—from the university in July 2016.

Both Todd, Cline and other former UNCC employees who spoke with WBTV on the condition their identities would not be divulged say Cline was targeted by senior university administrators to whom their department reported.

Internal reports written by a UNCC human resources employee and obtained by WBTV summarize conversations with employees who worked for Cline. The reports show some employees were afraid to speak with HR investigators for fear they would face retaliation.

But that didn't stop Todd from taking voicing his complaints.

Emails provided by Todd and authenticated by a UNCC spokesman show Todd first inquired about making a whistleblower complaint with an employee in the university's HR department on September 2, 2016.

That employee responded by sending a link to UNCC's policy on whistleblower complaints and also said she had referred the question to her supervisor.

Neither Todd nor a university spokesman could provide any additional emails showing that supervisor ever followed up with additional information regarding how to make a whistleblower complaint.

Two weeks later, emails show, Todd decided to send his complaint to two attorneys at the UNC-GA's office.

In his email—which was sent with the subject line "UNC Charlotte Whistleblower"—Todd specifically said he was sending his complaint to attorneys at the UNC-GA and not to officials at his campus because he felt they were involved in some of the activity about which he was complaining.

"Given the contents of the message I feel unable to report this directly to any department at UNC Charlotte, as well as the Board of Trustees because they use university email accounts," Todd said.

Todd's complaint involved allegations against the school's senior IT leadership as well as grievances regarding how Cline, his supervisor, was fired.

Despite Todd's warning and request his complaint be handled by UNC-GA, attorneys at the system office promptly forwarded Todd's complaint back to senior leadership at UNCC.

Emails show Todd sent his whistle complaint to the UNC-GA lawyers just after 1:00 p.m. on September 16, 2016. Those attorneys had forwarded the complaint to the general counsel at UNCC by 5:45 p.m., less than five hours after initially receiving it.

It does not appear the UNC-GA lawyers made any attempt to contact Todd regarding his complaint prior to forwarding it back to UNCC.

Among the people involved in the firing of Cline was Jesh Humphrey. Humphrey was UNCC's general counsel in September 2016 but had been working as deputy general counsel just months before and was advising the university's office on Cline's firing—among the topics about which Todd was complaining.

A spokesman for UNCC told WBTV in an email that Humphrey was not involved in the investigation of Todd's complaints.

But an email thread provided by UNCC shows Humphrey assigned the investigation to the school's compliance director, who is one of Humphrey's direct reports.

"Let's discuss how best to handle thing," Humphrey told compliance director Susan Burgess in an email about Todd's complaint on September 19, 2016. "I think the appropriate track, given OLA's (office of legal counsel's) involvement in the employment side of these issues, would be for you or Internal Audit to review and conduct the investigation in accordance with UP 803 (the UNCC policy governing whistleblower complaints.)"

Even as Humphrey acknowledged the fact that it would be inappropriate for him to be involved in investigating Todd's complaint, he passed judgement on the contents of the complaint in the email sent to his employee who would soon be charged with conducting an investigation into the allegations.

"Many of these allegations do not rise to the level of whistleblower claims in my view," Humphrey said.

Ultimately, records show, the review would be conducted jointly by Burgess, the university's compliance director and Humphrey's direct report, and the school's internal auditor.

UNCC's policy on whistleblower complaints says "generally, the University's Internal Audit department and Office of Legal Affairs will review and evaluate reports of suspected Improper Activities to determine the appropriate course and scope of review and/or investigation."

But the policy does not require involvement by the Office of Legal Affairs and includes provisions for elevating complaints to the Chancellor's office of the UNC-GA if necessary.

A draft of the final report, which was provided to WBTV by UNCC upon request, shows the pair provided  a copy of the report to Humphrey for review at the same time it was sent to UNCC Chancellor Philip Dubois.

In a statement, a spokesman for UNC-GA said Todd's complaint was immediately forwarded to Humphrey because the UNCC general counsel was not identified as an involved party in Todd's email.

"The general counsel was not named in any allegations in the complaint, and the general counsel engaged the internal auditor and university compliance director to review the allegations and report to the chancellor," the statement said. "Based on the information provided by the complainant and UNCC, there was nothing to indicate that the institution was unable to objectively review or impartially investigate the allegations raised in the complaint."

In a separate statement, a spokesman for UNCC said Humphrey had no involvement in the handling of Todd's complaint.

"Please note that Mr. Humphrey was not involved in the internal investigation," the school's statement said. "Mr. Humphrey immediately referred the complaint to both the UNC Charlotte Director of Internal Audit and to the University's Director of Compliance, as Mr. Humphrey recognized the need to recuse himself. He did not supervise or otherwise have any involvement in the internal review, contrary to your assertion."

A spokesman did not respond to follow-up questions from WBTV seeking to reconcile the university's claim that Humphrey was not involved with the investigation with the fact that he received the complaint from UNC-GA, assigned the investigation to a direct report and reviewed a final draft of the report.

The spokesman also did not answer questions regarding the fact that Humphrey is the direct supervisor to the school's compliance director.

UNCC's statement also accused Todd of failing to follow proper procedure to file a whistleblower complaint.

"Mr. Todd bypassed the policy in taking his complaint to UNC General Administration," the statement said.

But the spokesman also failed to respond to follow-up questions from WBTV seeking clarification on whether the HR supervisor ever followed up with Todd to answer his questions about the proper procedure regarding UNCC's whistleblower policy.

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