Central State investigating claims accusing President Thomas of creating ‘toxic work culture’

WILBERFORCE, Ohio — Central State University has hired outside counsel to investigate allegations made by five women that university President Dr. Jack Thomas created a “toxic work culture” that has included discrimination, slander, demotions and fear of retaliation.

The five women at the core of the allegations also said “we are aware of approximately thirteen women, but there may be others who are afraid of retaliatory action should they come forward.”

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The allegations were made in a letter of complaint sent to the university obtained by News Center 7′s Brandon Lewis in response to a public records request he filed on behalf of WHIO-TV.

The five women, in the letter, have asked to work with the CSU Board of Trustees “to resolve and address the negative working condition for current and future female employees.”

The group includes current and former CSU employees. They have asked the board to restore their pay, title and duties; to delay or cancel the renewal of Thomas’s contract until an investigation has been completed; to remove “any damaging, negative information” from their personnel files; and to place Thomas on administrative leave “while a third party is investigating the matter due to trust issues with the current administration.”

University General Counsel Laura Wilson, in a letter to News Center 7′s Lewis in late November, confirmed the investigation and said the law partnership of Taft Stettinius & Hollister has been appointed special counsel to investigate the women’s claims.

An organization identified in the complaint as Women IN Black, filed the formal grievance against the CSU administration and Thomas specifically in August, claiming there was evidence of discrimination, wrongful termination and/or demotions, harassment and intimidation, pay inequities, slander, defamation, a toxic work culture and a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act Law.

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The five claim the actions have been aimed at women, primarily African-American women, and have resulted in adverse, career limiting and damaging personnel actions such as pay inequities, wrongful demotions and wrongful termination.

“Women in high-level leadership positions have either resigned, been terminated, and/or demoted since Dr. Thomas’s tenure started in July of 2020,” according to the letter of complaint.

Thomas set the pattern and tone, the letter asserts.

The actions, the five claim, “have caused severe mental, emotional and financial stress, effectively killing the careers of each of the harmed women, preventing them from moving upwards within the University, or to more advanced roles at other institutions.

“Each of these women had their titles and positions stripped away and their pay cut, and were replaced by other less qualified individuals.”

The five claim that each of them has a unique story to tell and each is willing to provide testimony. Some, the letter of complaint asserts, have hired lawyers and the group is threatening to prepare a class action lawsuit “should it become necessary.”

The five said they have proved their dedication to Central State “not just as passionate employees, but also as alumni, parents of alumni and children of alumni. . . . We believe in Central State and want to be part of positive change.”

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Thursday evening, CSU board Chairman Mark Hatcher issued the following statement to News Center 7:

“The Board of Trustees has full confidence in President Jack Thomas and his vision for the University. His goals are ambitious, and we have been satisfied with the speed and quality of his progress toward those goals. In fact, in many cases he has not only met his goals but exceeded them.

“At a time when nationally, enrollment at HBCUs is down 11 percent, Central State decreased only seven percent. Under Dr. Thomas’ tenure, enrollment is higher than its been in decades, with more than 5,300 students. This includes online enrollment which has grown from 28 students in 2020 to more than 3,500 today. And on-campus enrollment has held steady despite declines in enrollment at colleges nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, at approximately 1,800 students.

“Additionally, in just over two years, Dr. Thomas has made significant strides in fundraising and in raising the profile of the University both in Ohio and nationally.

“The Board is committed to ensuring the excellence and integrity of Central State University on behalf of its employees and its students, and their families.”