GEAR UP scandal part of lawsuit against Northern State University

Investigates

A former Northern State University professor is suing NSU, its president, the South Dakota Board of Regents and former NSU Dean of Education Kelly Duncan. Thomas Orr has filed a federal lawsuit for violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, sex discrimination and retaliation.

Orr worked as a professor in Aberdeen at NSU’s School of Education from 2011 to 2019. Orr claims in his suit that he exceeded NSU’s standards for becoming a tenured professor and always got excellent teaching performance reviews. However, NSU still denied his tenure and fired him.

Orr alleges that he was terminated because he spoke out about injustices he saw on campus. Orr says that put him “at odds” with Dean Kelly Duncan, who had power over his application for tenure.

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In court papers, Orr says that Duncan gave her tenure binder to him to help him build his own. But according to the lawsuit, when the GEAR UP scandal broke, Duncan went into Orr’s locked office without asking him and took back her binder. Orr says he reported the incident to the University and made it clear he would inform law enforcement if they asked questions about Duncan and her role in GEAR UP.

As KELOLAND Investigates previously reported, Duncan’s consulting company got more than $124,000 from the SD Department of Education and worked with Mid Central Educational Co-op on its grants, as well as being an evaluator of the GEAR UP Grant, all while serving on the South Dakota Board of Education.

According to the lawsuit, Duncan, who tried from NSU in 2018, now lives in Las Vegas.

Orr also claims that Duncan discriminated against and harassed a minority faculty member, covered up incidents on campus and reported false data to NSU’s accrediting organization. Orr also claims Duncan inflated grades for student athletes and retaliated against an instructor who alleged that Duncan pressured her to change a student’s grade. Orr’s lawsuit states that Duncan abused her power and misused University resources.

Orr says that Duncan demoted him and he was warned by a former NSU attorney that professors who “do not shut up” lose their jobs. Orr says Duncan treated him poorly, made disparaging remarks about his family and told him when he wanted to take paternity leave that “he was not going to have a baby” and that there was nothing “physically wrong” with him. According to the lawsuit, Duncan told him male faculty did not take family leave for the birth of children.

Orr says he then went to human resources and did get some leave granted, but not all of the time he was entitled to under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Orr blames Duncan for convincing those on this tenure committee to vote against his tenure. The South Dakota Board of Regents followed the recommendation of the University and did not approve it either.

Orr is asking for more than $75,000 in damages. Both Northern State University and the Board of Regents tell KELOLAND News they will not comment on pending litigation. Attempts by KELOLAND News to reach Duncan were unsuccessful.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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