Deans Follow Retaliation Non-Discrimination Policy, Ombud Finds Other Retaliatory Behaviors

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Olivia Silvey ’25 & Sammi Bray ’25


In a July 2023 email to all Trinity faculty, President Joanne Berger-Sweeney stated that the external lawyer hired by The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) found that the actions of Dean Sonia Cardenas and Associate Dean Takunari Miyazaki involving the grievances from engineering professor John Mertens regarding a 2021 engineering department climate assessment “were not inappropriate.” This conclusion, and the report as a whole, focused only on whether or not the deans violated the Non-Discrimination Policy by retaliation as defined by the policy, which was not the subject of any of Mertens’ grievances against the deans.

Trinity’s Non-Discrimination Policy defines retaliation as “[occurring] when an individual is subjected to a materially adverse action because the individual has opposed conduct reasonably believed to violate this policy, filed a discrimination complaint, or participated in good faith in the reporting, investigation, and/or resolution of a discrimination complaint filed under this policy, any other College policy, or any other local, state, or federal law.” Scott Roberts, the external investigator, was directed by DEI to investigate if Cardenas and Miyazaki had violated this policy. He found they did not, as stated by Pamela Whitley in a March 2023 letter to Mertens, saying “the investigator concluded that the preponderance of the evidence did not support a finding that Deans Cardenas and Miyazaki retaliated against you in violation of the Policy on Nondiscrimination. Accordingly, the complaint filed against them is dismissed.”

Mertens’ grievances filed to both the Faculty Ombud and to the Academic Freedom Committee do not include complaints regarding the deans’ violation of the retaliation section of the Non-Discrimination Policy; Mertens’ use of the word retaliation in his grievances referred to the deans “releasing the Climate Assessment when [Mertens] did not elect to retire” as the Ombud report states when outlining his grievances, and involved no references to discrimination. Furthermore, the conclusions of the Ombud report did find Cardenas and Miyazaki to have committed “retaliatory behavior against [Mertens]” due to “the fact that the Climate Assessment was released to the office of DEI after [Mertens] elected not to retire (as Cardenas said would be the case).” The Ombud also states, “it is extremely reckless for [the deans] to even hint at not releasing the report (as they apparently did in their two meetings with [Mertens]…) or to delay its release… in my view, [this] serves as further evidence that their eventual release of the Climate Assessment was retaliatory in nature.”

Roberts began his investigation into the allegations against Mertens in May 2022, directed by DEI. In a November 2022 email, Whitley directed Roberts to narrow the scope of this investigation to two main allegations: one involving Mertens’ “behaviors towards women, minority and international students” and the other involving his alleged creation of “a toxic work environment in the Department of Engineering,” both of which Roberts eventually found no evidence of. In this same email, sent to Roberts, Mertens, Cardenas and Miyazaki, Whitley also stated that DEI is directing Roberts to investigate “Professor Mertens’ retaliation allegations against Deans Sonia Cardenas and Takunari Miyazaki.” Whitley stated at the end of this email that in this investigation into Cardenas and Miyazaki by Roberts, “…the College is the complainant.” Thus, Roberts was concurrently investigating Mertens and the deans.

In the Mertens investigation, “the complainant remains the Office of Human Resources,” as stated in a November 2022 email from Roberts to Whitley and Mertens, and the respondent was Mertens. In the second investigation, the complainant was the College, and the respondents the deans. On the Nov. 2, 2022 email from Whitley, all complainants and respondents of both investigations (except for HR) were included, with information about both investigations shared. A release of information in this fashion violates the Non-Discrimination Policy’s investigation protocol which states, “All participants in the investigation… are expected to keep all aspects of the complaint adjudication and investigation process confidential.”

This is an ongoing story.

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