Jury says Globe University violated whistleblower laws after firing dean
Former Globe University Dean Heidi Weber got her way in court Thursday when a Washington County jury reached a verdict stating she was wrongfully terminated for reporting legal and ethical violations at the school.
The jury deliberated for a full day examining hundreds of exhibits, including various internal emails presented in court, and recounted a handful of testimonies by Globe executives.
Weber, who was the network dean of the medical assistant program overseeing numerous campuses out of Woodbury, was fired in 2011. She claimed school officials retaliated against her and violated the Minnesota Whistleblower Act for reporting the violations including falsifying job placement rates and lack of externships they promised students.
“All I ever wanted was for my students to get the right thing,” Weber said following the verdict. “That’s what I still want. I’m happy justice was served.”
Globe’s attorney Matthew Damon said he plans to file a request for a new trial, claiming this one involved prejudiced and unsupported allegations.
“We don’t think that anything was actually proven here,” he said.
Damon referenced closing arguments by Weber’s attorney Clay Halunen, as well as arguments throughout the seven-day trial, that he said were irrelevant to the allegations and didn’t have the evidence to support them.
The verdict awards Weber nearly $400,000 for lost wages and emotional distress.
Globe officials said Weber was fired for lack of leadership and poor performance. They presented emails and notes to the jury that argued she failed to follow up on meetings, and that it was her job to fix issues she had raised.
Damon told the jury in his closing argument that Weber never used the words "false," "deceptive," "misleading" or "fraudulent" when she raised concerns.
“Isn’t it odd that there isn’t even one (email) that uses those words?” he said.
He also added that Weber didn’t point out specific statements Globe made that present false advertising or specific data that proves misleading placement rates. He said everyone in the workplace has issues that need examining, but they’re not legal violations.
Jurors, who included college students, a college dean and one who works in human resources, said both sides had valid arguments. But they weren’t convinced Weber was terminated for poor performance and said there were signs the school misled students into believing their credits would transfer to top institutions and that they would easily land jobs upon graduation.
Jake Mehsikomer said one of the “big red flags” for him was the lack of consistency in Globe’s case. The jury picked apart all the emails and evidence and found that at first Weber may have casually raised concerns about the ethical issues, but later they became potential legal questions she had, which he said proved the school wrongfully terminated her.
Mehsikomer, a 20-year-old Minnesota State Mankato University student, said Globe may have also misled students about job placement rates, credit transfers, potential impact of criminal backgrounds and the lack of externship opportunities, though it was difficult to prove if it was fraudulent.
“They kind of twisted things a little bit,” he said.
Globe officials did testify, however, that they can guarantee the school’s credits would transfer to just four schools. Beyond that, it is up to the institution to decide, he said.
“Credit transfer was huge for me,” Mehsikomer said, adding he saw that as unethical and a misrepresentation of school claims that Weber had pointed out.
When it came to the externship arguments, Weber said the school didn’t provide hands-on learning at medical facilities that students would benefit from before graduating and competing in the work place.
She raised concerns about the lack of opportunities and said Globe sent students to facilities like nursing homes, which don’t provide the same practical experience.
Globe attorneys argued that it was part of Weber’s job to fix the externship issue, which they said she failed to do.
However, Halunen presented Globe’s externship policy and Weber’s job description in court. When combined with executive testimony, Halunen said it was more of a team effort than her responsibility alone to provide more externships.
Additionally, Globe executive Jeff Myhre testified that Globe’s enrollment spiked over the past few years when new campuses opened up, leading to externship shortage.
But he said the school was beginning to offer students externships, though some may have been more than 50 miles away from campuses, to solve the problem.
Juror Mehsikomer said Globe should’ve seen the shortage problem coming when it opened up so many campuses. It was misleading students into believing they would get hands-on experience needed to earn certification, he said.
Globe University has a network of 14 Minnesota campuses, seven in Wisconsin and one in South Dakota.
Mehsikomer said it was also concerning that Globe would accept students with criminal backgrounds, without explaining the potential impact of convictions on their future job search.
Top Globe officials testified in court that the school conducts criminal background checks after students are accepted, and it only states the negative impact of felonies in fine print.
The school is also being sued by another former employee, Jeanne St. Claire, who worked as network dean of business at the Woodbury location, for violating the Minnesota Whistleblower Act. That trial is not expected to begin until next year, according to Globe’s attorneys.