Judge sides with woman fired from MSU on jobless benefits

EAST LANSING, MI (WLNS) – The State of Michigan says a woman should have been given unemployment benefits after she says she was wrongfully terminated by Michigan State University for denying sexual advances by her boss.

The decision was issued in late June, nearly four months after she was fired from her job in the Office of the Registrar due to what MSU described as “performance issues.”

As a result of her termination, the state denied her unemployment; the woman appealed it.

“MSU lied to the state of Michigan about the reason why I was terminated,” she said. “This is a clear case of wrongful termination, harassment, sexual assault.”

In a June 22nd decision, an administrative judge said her benefits never should have been denied, ruling that prior to being terminated, the woman “did her job to the best of her ability and did not intentionally do anything to disregard employer’s interests.”

It goes on to say that MSU did not provide any explanation of the reason for the woman’s termination and according to the document; MSU did not show up for the scheduled hearing.

“Employer discharged Claimant and misconduct has not been established,” the order says. “Therefore, the Claimant is not disqualified for benefits.”

Jason Cody, a spokesperson for MSU said the university does not discuss specific personnel matters, but explained how it handles employee terminations.

“In general, decisions to terminate an employee at MSU are made in conjunction with several offices and individuals,” he said.

Under the Michigan Employment Security Act, an individual is disqualified from receiving benefits if he or she was suspended or discharged for misconduct connected with the individuals work or for intoxication while at work.

“Mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapability, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good-faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed “misconduct” within the meaning of the statute,” the document says.

Last month, the former MSU employee told 6 News that her boss, Nicole Rovig, kissed her in the bathroom of a bar. She also laid out several graphic details surrounding Rovig’s behavior during a Big Ten Academic Alliance Conference in Ann Arbor in Oct. 2016.

At the time, Rovig was the registrar at MSU. She resigned last month, one day before MSU upheld her appeal of a Title IX investigation found that she violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy.

The woman, who we’re not identifying because of the sexual nature of her complaint, has reviews that say she was a good employee.

She believes she got fired because of what happened in the bathroom that night between her and Rovig.

The woman says Rovig was “ridiculously drunk” when she came out of the bathroom with her shirt and pants unbuttoned, and asked her to help button them. When the woman refused, she said Rovig grabbed her head and kissed her.

6 News obtained documents included in a Title IX investigation which claim Rovig made several other sexual advances to more than just the woman that night.

“She had her hands down people’s pants, others from other universities,” one witness told investigators.

Rovig admitted kissing one witness, but denied all of the other accusations against her.

The Title IX investigation ultimately sided with the victim. Investigators found that Rovig’s unwelcome behavior in October 2016 “unreasonably interfered with the woman’s employment.”

It also said that Rovig violated both the sexual harassment and intentional contact sanctions of MSU’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Policy.

Rovig appealed MSU’s finding, but it was turned down one day after Rovig handed in her resignation.

6 News reached out to Rovig’s attorney, but did not hear back.

The woman has not filed any lawsuit against MSU. She says all she wants from the university is an apology.

“I did right by MSU, and they did not do right by me,” the woman said. “It’s one of those situations where I believe MSU thinks they’re bigger than everybody else, that they can get away with this.”

In fact, she never did report what happened with Rovig to MSU. She told a mandatory reporter.

Before getting fired, the woman worked full-time in the Office of the Registrar.

Rovig signed and dated her termination letter on March 13.

“Any employee involved in an Office of Institutional Equity investigation would be made aware of the provisions against retaliation spelled out in MSU’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct policy and be given the opportunity to file such a complaint,” Cody said.

However, the woman says she wasn’t given that information.

“I was told verbally that I was not entitled to any of those services from MSU because I had already been fired,” she said. “I couldn’t be represented by the union, I wasn’t entitled to file any sort of complaint at that point, they were just following up…and at this point, I’m exploring legal options.”

MSU can appeal this ruling within 30 calendar days after the decision is mailed. The last day for the university to do so is July 24th.

According to the document, signed by Judge Jeffrey Kemm, the order becomes final unless it’s appealed.

The decision was mailed to all parties involved, including MSU.

The reversed decision no longer disqualifies the woman from unemployment. She’s also entitled to benefits for each claimed week following the filing for them.

The victim was unemployed for six weeks before eventually finding a job in another state.

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