Report: Central State president’s actions ‘rude, belittling and bullying,’ but not discriminatory

An investigation into Central State University President Jack Thomas concluded last week without substantiating claims of discrimination or harassment but finding issues with his treatment of employees, according to records obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

“President Thomas’ leadership style as it relates to the complainants may be characterized as rude, belittling and bullying, but does not rise to the level of harassment,” says a report presented to university trustees on Feb. 7.

University trustees initiated the investigation after five current and former employees — all Black women with past leadership roles at CSU — wrote a letter to the board in August alleging Thomas harassed and discriminated against them in employment decisions. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost hired the Cincinnati law firm Taft, Stettinius and Hollister to conduct the investigation.

Investigators talked to witnesses, obtained documents and concluded most complaints focus on leadership style, professionalism and fair and equitable treatment of employees, the report says.

The report noted that Thomas has discretion over whom he appoints to roles and that witnesses they spoke to said Thomas favored individuals he worked with in the past and brought to CSU — including a relative who witnesses say “was hired, but considered not competent.”

“There is no evidence that President Thomas’ hiring decision was based on a discriminatory reason, but he relied on his personal preference and familiarity with those hired,” the report concludes.

Dave Duwel, an attorney representing the five women who brought the claims, said Wednesday that he is talking to his clients about whether to take additional legal action.

“They’re very disappointed, and they don’t agree with the findings of the Taft firm,” Duwel said.

Along with the report, university trustees released a statement from Board Chair Mark Hatcher.

“We appreciate Dr. Thomas’ vision, drive, and accomplishments. The Board, however, expects University employees to conduct themselves at all times with civility and mutual respect for fellow employees,” Hatcher’s statement said.

“We have discussed the results of this investigation with Dr. Thomas, and we mutually agreed that he immediately undergo executive leadership and effective communication coaching.”

The university also released a statement from Thomas, whose three-year employment contract is up for renewal in June.

“The Board of Trustees hired me to deliver results during challenging times, and I believe I am doing so. I have always made decisions with the best interests of the University in mind, and in an effort to move the institution forward,” Thomas’ statement says.

“While I have always intended to treat those around me with respect, in the process of helping transform Central State University, I am charged to encourage and hold those who work for the institution with high and lofty expectations. Nevertheless, we can all benefit from personal reflection and coaching . I look forward to participating in leadership and effective communication coaching in an effort to improve my effectiveness leading this University,” the statement from Thomas concludes.

The university released the report to the Dayton Daily News in response to a request under Ohio public records law. University officials say the two pages released could be exempted from being a public record as attorney-client privilege, but trustees decided to release it.

Duwel expressed skepticism that the Taft firm’s months-long investigation resulted in only a two-page report.

“There’s got to be more to this,” he said.