TEXAS CITY — Since 2007 the College of the Mainland has spent more than $3 million on legal expenses.
That figure includes expenses on lawsuits, as well as expenses on routine matters such as trademark issues, land and equipment purchases and maintaining the policy manual, college President Beth Lewis said.
Lewis said the college did not have a dollar amount for how much had been spent on lawsuits alone.
Lewis said the college’s legal tab was not out of proportion for a college with a $32 million annual budget, more than 300 full-time employees and 200 part-time employees
“We are like a small company,” Lewis said.
Along with the approximately $3.2 million in legal expenses in past seven years, the college has also had to pay out about $129,500 in settlements, according to the college’s records.
The college has also received about $25,000 in settlements.
Lewis said that when it comes to spending money on lawsuits the college has no choice.
“You have to respond,” Lewis said. “You have to hire a lawyer to defend yourself.”
Since 2005, 24 lawsuits have been filed against the college, according to a summary of lawsuits provided by the college. Of those, 12 have been dismissed, four are active, four are awaiting decisions by the court and five have ruled for the plaintiff, according to the data provided by the college. “What you can see is that 50 percent of these lawsuits get dismissed in summary judgments, which means there was nothing to them to begin with,” Lewis said.
The college was been mired in a series of lawsuits since 2005 that include allegations of wrongful termination and of race, gender and sexual discrimination. Some involve claims of violations of First Amendment rights.
Lewis said the college and its attorney felt strongly the pending lawsuits would be dismissed.
“I think the courts bear us out that we are not doing anything wrong,” she said.
The college is also taking steps that Lewis said would help reduce lawsuits.
A lot more supervisor training is being done, she said.
Those supervisors are also being supported by the administration when they take disciplinary action against bad or underperforming employees, Lewis said.
She said a culture change is occurring at the college, where, in the past, no one could get fired no matter how badly they performed.
“We sort of sanctioned incompetence and laziness,” she said
Lewis said that is changing. Supervisors have been told that if they have someone who is not doing the job they should follow the process of pointing out the problem and then following with higher levels of discipline, she said.
The college wants to keep good workers, but those doing a bad job are not going to be shuffled from one department to another, she said.
Of the cases that the college has had to settle, two have been First Amendment lawsuits brought by former Professor David Michael Smith.
Smith was fired in August and has filed a lawsuit against the college. He continues to be the president of COM-Unity, an employee union.
Smith said he disagreed with the college’s count of lawsuits, saying the college had been sued 23 times and 11 were dismissed since 2005.
He would also challenge some of the dismissals issued by judges in regards to those cases, Smith said.
But by whatever count, Smith said five settlements were still an indication that “something was grievously, grievously wrong at (College of the Mainland).”
“Any higher education institution which is sued this frequently and which had to settle about one-third of the lawsuits has some grave problems that cannot be explained away,” Smith said.
The change in culture, Smith argued, was a rolling back of basic and legal right and a promotion of fear and intimidation.
“As long as the board and administration continue to mistreat people, they will face union opposition, grievances, legal action, open criticism and further erosion of public support,” Smith said.
Contact reporter Christopher Smith Gonzalez at 409-683-5314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
24 lawsuits have been filed against the college since 2005
12 dismissed in summary judgment for College of the Mainland
5 ruled for plaintiff
4 awaiting decisions by the court
4 active lawsuits
The college has spent about $3.2 million in legal expenses since 2007.
The college has spent $129,500 to settle five lawsuits since 2005.
*SOURCE: College of the Mainland