Moore files lawsuit against College

Since the College’s firing last month of Bernard Moore, former visiting assistant professor of political science, the administration has been dealing with the case’s repercussions, which include both legal considerations and issues within the College. Moore, who pled guilty to fraud charges in federal court on Nov. 9 and faces up to 41 months in prison when he is sentenced in February, filed a lawsuit against the College on Nov. 25 seeking damages of over $1.3 million. At the same time, the College continues conducting reviews of both Moore’s College credit card use as well as its own faculty hiring and review procedures.

“Apart from dealing with the legal action brought by Dr. Moore, which in the College’s view has no merit, no further action on the College’s part in this case is intended,” said Interim President Wagner.

Moore, who appears to be representing himself, alleges in his complaint that the College breached his contract in firing him and also violated COBRA, a federal employment statute that allows employees to continue their group health benefits when they lose their jobs, when it subsequently terminated his College health insurance.

According to the complaint, “The denial of COBRA continuation coverage by Williams College was arbitrary and capricious in nature since Dr. Moore was wrongful [sic] terminated on the basis of conduct that was from 2002 to 2006 two years prior to his appointment at Williams College on July 1, 2009 which constitute a breach Dr. Moore’s three year contract [sic].”

Moore argues that the College violated COBRA when it cancelled his health insurance plan due to “gross misconduct,” a judgment he alleges the letter of dismissal that Wagner addressed to Moore on Nov. 12 does not support. According to Wagner’s letter, Moore was dismissed based on his criminal conviction, fraudulent credentials, failure to notify the College of his actions and purchases with a College credit card that were not permitted by College policy.

“The College understands ‘gross misconduct’ to include at least the commission of a federal felony, rendering him, under the law, ineligible for COBRA,” said Jim Kolesar, director of public affairs, who added that the College has yet to officially receive the complaint.

According to Wagner, the Controller’s Office and the Dean of the Faculty’s office continue to investigate Moore’s use of his College credit card. In comments printed in the The Berkshire Eagle on Dec. 2, however, Kolesar said “that the number of dollars involved is not financially serious.”

Of the $1.3 million that Moore seeks from the College, $300,000 is for “back pay, front pay and reimbursement,” while $1 million is for punitive damages, according to his complaint. Moore also seeks an unspecified amount for the alleged COBRA violation.

College conducts
procedural reviews

Aside from dealing with Moore’s lawsuit, the College is also conducting multiple reviews of its faculty hiring and evaluation procedures, which in Moore’s case failed to expose a prior felony conviction, an ongoing federal investigation and a fraudulent undergraduate degree.

“A number of offices and departments have been discussing the case,” said Wagner, adding that the College has also been consulting its “own counsel regularly regarding the case.”

In the first concrete procedural changes to be implemented following Moore’s departure, the Committee on Appointments and Promotions (CAP) and the Faculty Steering Committee will from now on require all candidates for faculty positions to provide verification of their degrees.

“The Steering Committee was asked to consider [the issue] and felt that there was no problem with making [job] offers pending verification of credentials,” said Lucie Schmidt, professor of economics and chair of the Faculty Steering Committee. “It’s something many other institutions do, and it is simply a question of covering all the bases.”

According to Jim Mahon, professor and chair of political science, the department discussed possible changes to its own policies at a meeting on Dec. 2. “I can say that we are looking at ways to pay more attention to teaching in both hiring – to the extent possible – and review,” he said, though he declined to offer specific details because the review is ongoing.
While the political science department has so far been working independently in its procedural review, a larger group of department and program chairs will address common concerns arising from Moore’s case at a meeting next semester. “We will be discussing hiring, evaluation and mentoring practices for visiting faculty in light of what we have learned in this instance, with a view to improving them where possible,” Wagner said.

Both Wagner and Kolesar said that they have received about a dozen e-mails from parents and alumni expressing appreciation for being informed, concerns over hiring practices and, according to Wagner, “a desire that the initiatives begun by Dr. Moore continue.”

Mahon said that most of the comments directed at him have come from students, some of who serve on the department’s student liaison committee and are involved in the ongoing review.