The executive director of the public authority that oversees U.S. Bank Stadium has stepped down after he was found to have demonstrated unconscious gender bias against an employee.
James Farstad's departure was announced Thursday by Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) Chair Michael Vekich at the board's monthly meeting. At the same time, the MSFA approved a $110,000 severance payment to project coordinator Elizabeth Proeitz, who submitted a complaint against Farstad in December.
The board unanimously approved the settlement for Proeitz after a closed-door meeting with lawyer Jay Lindgren. In addition to Vekich, those voting for the settlement agreement were MSFA commissioners Angela Burns Finney, Bill McCarthy and Tony Sertich. Commissioner Sharon Sayles Belton was absent.
After Proeitz decided to quit this month, Vekich said, Farstad chose to leave as well. He submitted his resignation letter Monday.
In a statement after Thursday's vote, Vekich said that the MSFA launched an investigation when Proeitz filed a grievance claiming gender discrimination and inappropriate communications by Farstad.
"I have been a victim of our executive director's harassment for far too long, and I can't continue to put up with it," Proeitz wrote, adding that Farstad was "inappropriate" and "abusive" toward her and treated her with "enormous disrespect."
Farstad and Proeitz were two of four full-time employees with the MSFA, the state agency that oversees contractors, equipment and operations at the $1.1 billion stadium on behalf of the state. The other two full-time employees are CFO Mary Fox-Stroman and accountant Sue Arcand.
As project coordinator, Proeitz provided administrative support such as scheduling meetings, developing agendas and meeting materials and updating the website.
In her complaint, Proeitz said Farstad treated men and women "very differently" and that he was responsible for "pushing capable women out of the organization." Proeitz said she believed Farstad's "hostility" also was related to an unstated medical condition that was made worse by stress.
An investigation by an outside attorney, Sheila Engelmeier, found no basis to conclude that Proeitz had a legal claim for a hostile work environment. Engelmeier concluded, however, that Farstad had "acted with discriminatory intent" based on gender and "multiple corroborated instances of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct demonstrating unconscious bias based on gender."
Farstad, who has been out with a medical issue since January, wasn't recommended for termination. But he did sign a "last chance agreement" on Jan. 21 in which he agreed to receive training and coaching on communication skills, unconscious bias and creating a respectful workplace.
After Proeitz filed the complaint, the MSFA replaced Farstad with Fox-Stroman as her supervisor, Vekich said. Earlier this month, however, Proeitz decided to leave her job. She reached a separation agreement with the MSFA under which she would receive a payment and promise not to sue.
Proeitz was paid $69,540, and Farstad's salary was $174,500.
Vekich said the settlement was a "risk assessment" decision for the MSFA. The agreement bars Proeitz from suing the MSFA, a process that could be long and costly, he said.
Farstad was with the MSFA for a decade in various roles, including technology adviser. He became executive director in May 2018 after working as chief technology consultant for five years, a period that included construction and the opening of the building in summer 2016. He also served two stints as interim executive director.
Proeitz's hiring was announced by former Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen at the MSFA meeting in January 2016. Kelm-Helgen later acknowledged that Proeitz, whose name then was Elizabeth Brady, was the daughter of her friends.
Vekich said he expects to conduct a national search for the next executive director. He said Proeitz's position would eventually be filled.