Attorneys for the University asked a U.S. District Court judge to dismiss part of a former professor’s lawsuit against GW last week.
Richard Soland, the professor of operations research in School of Engineering and Applied Science, is suing GW for failing to notify him of an upcoming school-wide SEAS buyout program while he was in the process of taking an individual buyout, according to court documents.
GW filed a motion last week to dismiss one count of Soland’s complaint that alleges a breach in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 – a federal law that sets minimum standards for pension plans in private industry.
The Richard Soland lawsuit
Soland receives an offer for a separation package.
SEAS faculty notified of school-wide voluntary separation program.
Soland asks if he was eligible for buyout. He was told no.
Soland recieves a formal denial for school-wide buyout.
Soland files lawsuit against the University
GW asks U.S. District Court to dismiss part of lawsuit.
The University’s motion requests that District Judge Robert L. Wilkins dismiss the count as “Dr. Soland has not pled facts sufficient to establish an actionable claim of misrepresentation or non-disclosure under ERISA,” according to a memorandum provided with the defense’s motion.
GW’s response also said Soland’s complaint is redundant, another reason the attorneys asked the judge to dismiss the count.
Soland retired in December 2009 after accepting an individual buyout package that was approved in April 2008. Eighteen months later, SEAS launched a buyout plan for full-time professors who worked for GW since July 1994 or earlier.
Soland said if he knew about the upcoming buyout, he would have kept his position 5 months longer “so as to be eligible to receive approximately $325,000 in severance benefits,” court documents read.
Soland is seeking a severance payment from the University equal to what he would have received if he had taken the later buyout option, as well as attorney’s fees and other fees.
Soland, who started at GW in 1978, would have been eligible to receive double his 2009 base salary – $325,000, according to court documents – if he accepted the school-wide separation package. Instead, Soland left with only his base salary – $162,653.
The defense denies that “any SEAS-wide voluntary separation program was in the works” in November 2008, according to its response to Soland’s complaint.
Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Don Lehman said in December 2009 the buyout options came from recommendations released in 2008 by the Commission on the School of Engineering and Applied Science – a different timeline than the one presented in the court documents.
Soland alleged in court documents that Lehman and SEAS Dean David Dolling didn’t inform him of the plan in November 2008.
The defense asserts Soland wasn’t informed about the separation plan “because he was not eligible for benefits under the Plan.”
Soland began teaching at GW in 1978. The amount offered in each package varies by time served at GW. If a faculty member came to the University from August 1960 to July 1979, he or she will receive double his or her 2009 base academic-year salary; from August 1979 to July 1986, 1 1/2 the 2009 base academic-year salary; from August 1986 to July 1990, the 2009 base academic-year salary; and from August 1990 to July 1994, half the 2009 base academic-year salary.
Lehman told Soland Dec. 7, 2009, that he didn’t believe the professor was eligible for the program’s benefits because “in Mr. Lehman’s view, Plaintiff’s ‘full-time active status’ with GW ended at the conclusion of the Fall 2008 semester,” according to court documents.
Soland argued that the GW Faculty Code only has two status options for personnel, either retired or active, and went ahead with submitting paperwork for the 2009 separation plan.
In February 2010 Lehman formally denied – on behalf of his office and GW – Soland’s claim. Soland wasn’t defined as a full-time active status faculty member under the plan, Lehman’s letter said according to court documents, because after Dec. 31, 2008, Soland didn’t attend faculty meetings, assist with administrative work or perform academic duties like other full-time faculty.
Soland appealed this decision in April 2010, which was also denied two months later, according to the complaint. Lehman allegedly admitted the separation plan doesn’t define “full-time regular active faculty member,” but argued that Soland didn’t meet a generally accepted definition of the status.
Lehman also claimed, according to the complaint, that faculty had to be employed through at least May 31, 2010, to be eligible for the plan.
The University’s attorneys, Christopher Weals and Simon Torres, declined to comment as their firm doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Soland has until March 8 to respond to the University’s motion.
Jason Ehrenberg, one of Soland’s attorneys, declined to comment further on the case.
This article was updated on March 4, 2011 to reflect the following changes:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the amount offered by the severance package for a faculty member hired between August 1979 and July 1986 was 1 1/5 the 2009 base academic-year salary. In fact, the package offered 1 1/2 the 2009 base academic-year salary.
This article appeared in the February 28, 2011 issue of the Hatchet.