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Globe University whistleblower case sent to jury

The trial of a former Globe University dean, suing the school for allegedly firing her after she raised concerns over its admission practices, has concluded with jurors now deliberating.

Attorneys made closing statements Tuesday and jurors were sent to deliberate the case.

Heidi Weber has been waiting more than two years to tell her story, her attorney Clayton Halunen told a jury of seven at Washington County District Court during opening statements, which included allegations that Globe targets students with criminal backgrounds, military personnel and others who've "failed everywhere else."

"They target desperate people," he said.

Weber filed the lawsuit in 2011, alleging the school retaliated against her and violated the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, for making good faith reports.

Weber was first hired as instructor in the Sioux Falls, S.D., campus before she was promoted to dean of the medical assistant program, overseeing the for-profit school's whole network out of the Woodbury campus.

"She started to see that students were not getting the education they were promised," Halunen said, noting that Weber was faced with the dilemma to report illegalities at the risk of getting fired.

"She decided she had to say something," he said. "She followed all the proper channels."

But Globe University attorney Matthew Damon said Weber doesn't have enough evidence to prove the school violated any laws and that her poor performance is what led to her termination.

"It's quite a story that Heidi Weber tells," Damon said. "And that's all it is."

Weber alleges Globe falsely advertises job placement rates, recruits students with "sales representatives" -- not admission counselors -- and sells "dreams" to students even if they don't have the aptitude to complete the programs or get land top-paying jobs.

"There is no dream," Halunen said. "It's an illusion."

Halunen continued on to say that staff at Globe are not qualified to do the job. They go through quick training programs, at the same time the school charges high tuition rates that force students to take out thousands of dollars in loans.

"These people are teaching medical assistants who are going to be caring for you and I," he told the jury.

Globe's accreditation for the medical assistant program came from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), which Weber said misled students on post-graduation employment prospects, according to the allegations.

The school later changed its accreditation to the Accrediting Bureau of Health Educating Schools (ABHES) because it was less stringent, but did not tell the students, Halunen said.

The accreditation agencies require schools to provide externships for students, which Weber said were not offered to Globe students and caused her to raise concerns. When she threatened to report the school, she got fired, Halunen told jurors.

Halunen argued that top school officials were "looking for dirt" on Weber seven weeks before she was terminated. He showed an email by the chief operating officer requesting specific examples of where she didn't meet job expectations.

At the end, Weber was told the school decided to move into a different direction, but when she filed the suit, Globe came up with different reasons for her termination, Halunen said.

Damon denies the allegations that Globe was hunting for reasons to fire Weber and said she failed to respond to requests for information, other employees said she wasn't knowledgeable of her job duties and that Globe deserved a better leader.

"She was fired because she lost the faith of the employees she was responsible for supporting," he said.

Damon added that Weber's performance review records state she scored average despite her claiming she was a top notch employee who's had stellar performance since she was hired.

He also added that it was part of Weber's duties to raise concerns, but she was also responsible for fixing the problems.

Globe did not violate any laws by switching accreditation, Damon told the jury, and Globe always warned its students about the potential impact of their criminal backgrounds.

"What exactly did she say she reported," he said. "There were some meetings in April (2011), but you'll be hard pressed to see anything reported."

Damon continued to tell the jury the externship issues and job placement problems with local health care providers were problems Weber was supposed to solve as network dean.

"It is unfortunate that Ms. Weber was not successful as network dean," he said.

The case was expected to be handed to the jury later this week.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.