Trinity College and Dean of Faculty Sued by Engineering Professor

4 min read

Olivia Silvey ’25

Editor-in-Chief

On Feb. 9, Trinity College and the Dean of Faculty Sonia Cardenas were served with a lawsuit, filed by engineering department professor John Mertens. The suit claims Cardenas and other members of College administration violated Connecticut Statute 31-51Q, Breach of Contract and Prima Facie Tort, and includes allegations of blackmail, criminal fraud and academic freedom violations. The 69-page complaint cites multiple documents, most prominently the separate investigations from Trinity’s Faculty Ombud, Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) and outside lawyer Scott Roberts.

The lawsuit comes after more than two years of internal College complaints, hearings and investigations primarily involving Cardenas and Mertens, along with various other administrators, including College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, (now former) Assistant Dean of Faculty Takunari Miyazaki, (now former) Head of Human Relations Michelle Cabral, Assistant Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Compliance Pamela Whitley and General Counsel Dickens Mathieu. All of the above administrators, except Mathieu, have been mentioned by name in the complaint.

One of the primary charges in the complaint states that “DOF Cardenas and ADOF Miyazaki pursued a deliberate and malicious plan to blackmail Plaintiff [Mertens] in order to coerce him into leaving the faculty by agreeing to early retirement by fraudulently claiming that they possessed adequate cause to terminate his employment based on complaints that would be otherwise filed with the Office of Diversity and Equity at Trinity.” This alleged coercion took place in early 2022, and was the main subject of Mertens’ complaint to the Faculty Ombud and subsequently the AFC. Both found Cardenas and the involved parties as having violated the faculty manual, and affirmed multiple other aspects of Mertens’ complaint. The lawsuit’s complaint also states that the “plan” by Cardenas and Miyazaki was “based on the Climate Assessment” of the engineering department “conducted in the Fall of 2021.”

The exhibits in the case, which are supporting documents, are set to be as follows: Trinity College’s Faculty Manual; AFC Report (2020); Mertens’ letter to Berger-Sweeney (2022); Trinity’s Non-Discrimination Policy; Ombud Report (2022); Roberts’ report (2023); and AFC’s second report (2023). Most notably, Roberts’ report is not yet public information, as it is currently classified as a confidential investigative continued from page one report. It documents the attorney’s 10-month DEI investigation of Mertens as directed by the College. The complaint states, “the Roberts Report completely vindicated [Mertens] of any violation of Trinity’s Policy on Non-Discrimination against students in this, the fourth occasion, that the allegations had been investigated.”

When asked to comment on the lawsuit, Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Communications Hellen Hom-Diamond stated:

“This lawsuit is an unwarranted distraction from our mission, which is to prepare students to be bold, independent thinkers who lead transformative lives. This requires creating a learning and work environment free from bullying and harassment for all members of our community, including students, faculty, administrators and staff. The College already has spent precious resources and energy to respond to this professor’s highly personal and endless accusations. The professor’s complaints have been reviewed by the Office of the President, the Board of Trustees, the Office of Title IX, Human Resources, and an independent investigator. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by the College toward this individual. We regret that we must continue to expend more time and effort on these personal grievances.”

When asked to comment on the lawsuit, Mertens stated:

“I have offered Trinity College administrators many exit ramps over the last two years and attempted to resolve this matter internally, including participating in an expensive mediation in January 2024, which was an abject failure. Going forward, I continue to offer the following solution:

  1. A public statement by Trinity College stating:
  • Written policies of Trinity College governing the handling of complaints against faculty were violated by members of the administration.
  • An in-depth and thorough investigation of the claim against John Mertens has found zero
    evidence of any discriminatory behavior by John Mertens as claimed by members of the administration.
  • Going forward, Trinity College will ensure that due process is provided for every member of the Trinity College community in the handling of complaints.

2. Trinity College pays/reimburses all my legal and mediation expenses since the January 2022 meeting with the Deans.

3. Trinity College pays fair, just and reasonable compensation to John Mertens for the distress, stress, and anxiety associated with putting him through hell for 14 months, from the January 2022 meeting until the ‘Roberts Report’ was completed in March 2023.”

The return date for the case is set for March 12, which means that the defendants named have until that date to respond to their court summons. To read more about the various reports and background of the situation, see our previous coverage.

This is an ongoing story.

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