Two prominent women on University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler’s senior leadership team received settlements totaling nearly $300,000 in 2016 after a sexual harassment scandal that ousted former athletic director Norwood Teague, according to newly released documents.
Teague resigned from the university Aug. 6, 2015, amid reports that he had drunkenly groped and sexually harassed two women who were not publicly identified at the time. He apologized for what he called his “offensive behavior,” which included sending graphic text messages to one of the victims.
In separate agreements signed several months apart, the women waived any legal claim they might have had against the school in exchange for financial payouts ranging from $50,000 to $181,630, in addition to attorney’s fees and reimbursed health care costs. Terms of the previously undisclosed settlements were revealed in response to an information request from the Star Tribune and the Wall Street Journal.
Though their names are redacted in the documents, the circumstances described in the settlements match those of Ann Aronson and Erin Dady.
Dady, who acted as special assistant to the president, and Aronson, former deputy chief of staff in Kaler’s office, later identified themselves as complainants in the case, which triggered Teague’s departure. The women said they’d felt compelled to report his behavior “because it was frightening and wrong. We believed there would be others, and we felt a duty to help protect them.”
The saga roiled the U community, reviving questions about Title IX commitment at an institution that had long faced concerns about shortchanging female athletes.
The uproar came two years before the “MeToo” movement. It prompted swift action by U leaders, who agreed to strengthen policies on sexual misconduct in the workplace.
On Saturday, U spokesman Evan Lapiska said administrators have learned from the past and will continue to reinforce “a culture that prevents sexual misconduct and aggressively addresses it when it occurs.” He defended the use of settlements to “acknowledge wrongs and attempt to heal wounds.”
Kaler declined an interview request from the Star Tribune.
Terms of settlement
Teague’s fall unfolded over a two-week period, beginning with a senior leadership retreat at Breezy Point Resort in Pequot Lakes.
University officials said both incidents of sexual harassment occurred on July 15, 2015, at the end of the retreat’s first day. The women reported Teague’s behavior to Kaler’s office the next day and provided detailed statements to the U’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office.
Teague resigned three weeks later, shortly after Kaler informed him that the university planned to conduct a formal investigation.
On the one-year anniversary of the retreat, Dady signed a separation agreement with the U expressing her intent to resign as of Aug. 1. It entitled her to a severance package of one year’s salary — $181,630. It also reimbursed all documented out-of-pocket medical expenses incurred within two years of the incident, continued health care coverage for up to 12 months, $25,000 in legal fees and a positive letter of reference.
In exchange, Dady freed the university of any liability related to her employment. It appears she left quietly — less than two years after joining Kaler’s leadership team as the U’s chief lobbyist.
Dady became chief marketing officer of Bremer Bank in December 2017. Aronson stayed behind as the U’s chief marketing officer — a role she’s had for 12 years.
On Oct. 10, 2016, she reached an agreement with the university resulting in a one-time award of $50,000. The settlement also converted her annual renewable appointment at the U into a three-year appointment, with the stipulation that she’d receive a full payout if terminated “for any reason other than just cause.”
The terms required Aronson to waive her right to sue the U in exchange for the settlement, which also included reimbursement of all documented out-of-pocket medical expenses incurred within 2½ years of the incident and $25,000 in attorney’s fees.
Aronson, named Kaler’s deputy chief of staff in October 2014, is credited with leading the university’s “Driven to Discover” campaign.
Neither Dady nor Aronson could be reached for comment Saturday.
History of behavior
The Star Tribune has reported that Teague’s behavior resulted in multiple complaints and dated back to at least 2012.
The U previously paid $175,000 in 2013 to settle a complaint by a former associate athletic director, Regina Sullivan, who accused Teague of gender discrimination when he fired her in October 2012.
Just months before, Teague’s previous employer, Virginia Commonwealth University, paid $125,000 to its former women’s basketball coach to settle another gender discrimination complaint — a fact officials said he failed to disclose during the recruitment process.
Other allegations emerged after his resignation. Star Tribune reporter Amelia Rayno disclosed in a first-person account that she, too, had been sexually harassed by Teague while covering the Gophers in 2013.
Days later, the U announced that “less than five” new accusers had stepped forward to file anonymous complaints.
Teague ended his three-year tenure at the U by saying that he had “entirely too much to drink” at the retreat and that his behavior did not reflect his true character. In response, Dady and Aronson challenged the implication that alcohol was to blame.
“Sexual harassment is a predatory act. Having too much to drink does not excuse it,” they said in a joint public statement in 2015. “It’s a problem that continues to plague our institutions and our working lives despite programs and training designed to suppress it. The only way to eliminate it is to call attention to it when you see it or experience it.”