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Two former University of Utah employees are suing the state's flagship university, saying they were fired in retaliation for discovering policy violations and budgetary waste within the school's information technology department.
In a lawsuit filed in June, Jasmin Davis and Barry Wilson list a series of allegations against the university and its staff, from falsified purchase orders to safety violations and ongoing expenses for expired or unnecessary services.
Reporting and correcting those mistakes embarrassed Davis' and Wilson's superiors, the lawsuit alleges, leading to the wrongful termination of both plaintiffs.
"The university took adverse action against Ms. Davis and Mr. Wilson because they objected to or refused to carry out a directives [sic] that they reasonably believed violated a law or regulation of Utah or the university," the lawsuit states.
Davis and Wilson declined to comment. Their attorney, Roger Hoole, said his clients were successful at recovering and correcting the use of significant amounts of public funding.
"I'm pretty confident in saying that together they saved the university and the state of Utah millions of dollars doing the work they did," he said. "They would have continued to do the same thing, but they were shut down."
Davis was hired to work in the university's information technology department in August 2013 and was promoted in March 2014 to the position of associate director of strategic vendor partnerships, according to the lawsuit.
She worked in a supervisory role to Wilson, a senior project manager, until November 2014, when the department was reorganized to remove a line of reporting between them, the lawsuit states. Wilson was fired the next month because he "failed to collaborate effectively and work in a collegial manner," according to a copy of his termination letter filed in court with the lawsuit.
Davis was fired the following September after a department reorganization eliminated her position, according to her termination letter.
While employed at the university, Davis and Wilson identified several areas of waste and policy violations, according to the lawsuit, including long-term agreements for services the university no longer needed, improper safety controls for the school's underground infrastructure network, preferential treatment of vendors, and redundant and unnecessary technology upgrades.
An internal audit conducted by the University of Utah in October 2015 investigated 67 complaints related to the school's information technology department, also known as UIT. Auditors acknowledged managerial concerns, but they found no evidence of wrongdoing or unlawful activity.
"Some of the statements point out business issues that UIT management was aware of," the audit states. "We do not believe such issues [are] unusual considering the complexity of information technology at the university and the rate of technological change."
In a prepared statement, U. spokeswoman Maria O'Mara referred to the internal audit and the school's ethics and compliance hotline, which is available to the campus community and administered by a private contractor.
"The university is committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct and stewardship of public funds," she said. "It encourages employees and others to report any dishonest or improper acts, including those that violate the law, waste money or endanger public health or safety."
Hoole said attorneys for the university requested to extend until December the deadline to respond to the lawsuit. He agreed to that request, he said, because of the "massive" scope of the lawsuit. Wilson and Davis are seeking reinstatement, back wages, general damages and attorney fees.