Former University of Iowa Study Abroad director suing for discrimination, retaliation

Plaintiff: Concerns about work performance came out of nowhere

A former director of the University of Iowa’s Study Abroad program, who lost her job in April, is suing the state and two UI employees for discrimination, retaliation and failure to follow procedures.

Janis Perkins, who became the UI’s first director of Study Abroad in 1997 and was appointed as assistant dean of International Programs in 2010, was notified on Jan. 4, 2012, that her position was going to be eliminated on April 4, according to a lawsuit filed in Johnson County District Court.

She was told her dismissal was part of a “comprehensive reorganization” of International Programs, which also resulted in the discharge of Scott King, who was assistant dean of the Office of International Students and Scholars.

But, in her lawsuit, Perkins argues that Downing Thomas, associate provost of International Programs, and Lori Cranston, a financial officer for the Office of the Provost, had harassed, bullied and discriminated against her for months because of her health disabilities.

She argues in the suit that the UI retaliated against her for her disabilities, her complaint of discrimination and because she took leave to treat her disabilities.

“The reorganization was hastily done over the university’s winter break and was a mere pretext for terminating (Perkins) based on her disability,” she states in her lawsuit.

Perkins describes her disabilities in the lawsuit as an autoimmune disorder diagnosed in 2000 that required periods of leave for treatment and severe depression, including an episode that required hospitalization in 2005.

She says in the lawsuit that her employer knew about her disabilities, but she repeatedly received excellent performance reviews until June 17, 2011, when she was placed on a performance improvement plan.

Perkins said Thomas’ concerns with her performance came out of nowhere and, after months of bullying and harassing ensued, she made a complaint to the UI’s ombudsperson. In September 2011, Thomas sent Perkins a letter warning that she was not meeting expectations and her job was in danger, according to the lawsuit.

Days later, Perkins was placed on medical leave by her doctor for severe depression. Two months later, the UI notified Perkins that it did not believe she was acting in good faith with regard to her leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act, according to the lawsuit.

In January, she learned her position was being cut.

Perkins is suing the state, Thomas and Cranston for disability discrimination and retaliation that she says caused damages including past and future medical expenses, mental and emotional harm, anxiety, fear, depression, and future loss of wages, earning capacity and full mind and body.

She’s also suing the defendants for depriving her of due process by eliminating her job “without cause and in violation of the law” and for depriving her of equal protection, according to the lawsuit.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said the university can’t discuss the matter because of the pending litigation.

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