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HACC denies claims made by former security director in whistleblower lawsuit

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3 p.m.: The college has posted a news release in response to Todd A. Crawley's lawsuit, saying it commissioned Brett Sokolow, president and CEO of The NCHERM Group LLC in Malvern, to perform an independent investigation of the claims. HACC described Sokolow as a higher-education expert.

Brett Sokolow found no misconduct and no retaliation, and he found that nothing illegal was done by the College administration, said David Keller, HACC's legal counsel. The investigation began in March 2013 and concluded June 9, 2013, according to the news release.

"I am angered by the attack on the College and me personally," college President John J. Sygielski said in the news release. "I am an ethical and moral person. I would never do anything to jeopardize the integrity and reputation of the college – and I would never do anything to damage my own integrity, character and reputation. My parents taught me that all you really have are your character and good name. Therefore, I will fight hard for both of them.

"I have made many significant, challenging but necessary changes since I was hired to serve as president of HACC almost two years ago in July 2011. When leaders make these types of changes, unfortunately, they become targets, and these situations occur. It is sad that hardworking HACC employees must spend precious time addressing these false, untrue and unfounded allegations instead of focusing on our top priority – our students.

"This lawsuit will not deter me and other leaders at HACC. We will continue to make the changes that are necessary to move the college forward. We will do it boldly, courageously and transparently. I am confident that the college's students, employees, alumni, board members, donors and other supporters will see this situation for what it is – an unfortunate ploy to retaliate against me and others for the tough decisions we have made during the past few years.

"As you can imagine, there is much more to this story. However, we have to be careful about what we disclose, because doing otherwise may put the College in legal jeopardy. Those we serve and those who support us need to know that this College is being led by ethical and moral individuals who continue to identify and resolve challenges that occurred before many of us were hired," Sygielski said.

Interim Chief Human Resources Officer Dennis Heinle said, "This lawsuit is outrageous and unfounded. I look forward to the opportunity to get the truth out there."

Initial report

The former director of public safety at Harrisburg Area Community College has filed a lawsuit against the college, its president and its head of HR, alleging violation of the Whistleblower Law.

According to the filing in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Todd A. Crawley worked for HACC since 2006 and in July 2012 was appointed director of public safety. The suit says Crawley discovered and reported internally that HACC was not compliant with the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, then provided accurate information to the U.S. Department of Education in December 2012 after it performed an unannounced audit.

The suit alleges that college President John J. Sygielski then pressured Crawley and HACC's chief of human resources, then Lisa Sanford, to create a false report. Crawley said he refused in December; then, in January, Sygielski removed Sanford from her position and replaced her with Interim Chief Human Resources Officer Dennis Heinle.

Subsequently, the suit says, Sygielski and Heinle targeted Crawley in retaliation for his truthful disclosure and attempted to make him a scapegoat "for several of HACC's recent public embarassments. On March 20 Crawley's attorney, Frank Clark of Clark & Krevsky Attorneys at Law, sent Sygielski a letter officially putting him on notice that Crawley believed his legal rights were being violated, requesting immediate cessation of retaliation and notifying him that if any adverse job action was taken against Crawley, HACC and the relevant individuals would face litigation.

On March 26, the suit says, Crawley was removed from his position as director of public safety and an employee he formerly supervised was assigned to the position. Crawley remains an employee of the college but, according to the suit, has been given no specific tasks to perform, had access to his computer blocked and his HACC vehicle rescinded, and was reassigned to a building where HACC's lease is expiring.

The suit also says that Crawley learned of an alleged student-on-student sexual assault on the HACC Harrisburg campus on or about April 12. As HACC's Title IX coordinator, Crawley is responsible for conducting an investigation of an alleged sexual assault, but the suit says the defendents have compromised his ability to carry out that function by directing security personnel to have no contact with Crawley.

Crawley is seeking all applicable penalties, civil fines and suspensions against HACC.

According to records obtained from HACC in an open records request, Sanford signed a confidential separation agreement and general release agreement with HACC in which both parties agreed not to disparage or criticize the other "in any communication of whatever nature with any third parties." The agreement says HACC paid Sanford her base compensation through Dec. 31, 2013, in the amount of $97,572.12 less payroll taxes and other legally mandated withholdings.

Sanford was permitted to keep an iPad purchased for her by the college, the agreement says, and paid for remaining vacation and sick days dating back to 1988.

Comment from HACC was not immediately available this morning.

Check back throughout the day for updates.

Related documents

Click here to read the full text of the court filing. Click here to read the supporting court documents.

Click here to read Lisa Sanford's full separation agreement.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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