GRAND FORKS — A University of North Dakota administrator has been found by a judge to have not discriminated against the university’s former chief of police.
Eric Plummer, UND’s former chief of police, filed a complaint against Cassie Gerhardt, associate vice president of student affairs and diversity, in early February. Plummer said Gerhardt and another UND administrator, Cara Halgren, harassed and discriminated against him, and that they created a hostile work environment, because of his political beliefs.
Administrative law judge Hope Hagen’s finding, dated Aug. 10, indicated that conduct carried out specifically by Gerhardt did not rise to the level of harassment and hostile work environment, as defined by UND, though the report acknowledges Gerhardt and Plummer’s relationship was strained.
“The relationship between Gerhardt and Plummer at times created a tense environment for them and the others in the Student Affairs and (University Police Department,)” wrote Hagen. “However, the conduct specific to Gerhardt was not sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive such that it interfered with Plummer’s employment.”
The finding comes shortly after Hagen found that Cara Halgren, vice president of student affairs at UND, discriminated against Plummer based on his political beliefs, after learning that Plummer voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Halgren has appealed the ruling, which was filed July 30. Hagen found that Halgren did not harass Plummer, or create a hostile work environment.
Plummer said he has filed an appeal of the Aug. 10 ruling, and that he would not make a statement until the appeal has been heard.
Gerhardt also declined to respond to a request for comment, given the continuing nature of the appeal.
Hagen’s ruling about Gerhardt lists a number of behaviors that run from seemingly minor infractions — Gerhardt said at times she couldn’t remember his title at UND, and may have incorrectly referred to him with the wrong one — to claims that she intentionally left him out of a COVID-19 town hall meeting for students, and demeaned him in front of another UND administrator by referring to him as a “part-time police chief.”
As to the latter claim, Gerhardt told investigators she didn't recall referring to Plummer in such a manner, but if she did it was due to the several different roles he filled at UND, and not to disrespect him. An unnamed individual questioned by investigators recalled jokes being made about Plummer at meetings where he was referred to as “part-time police.”
Concerning being left out of a student town hall meeting by Gerhardt, Plummer said he was “basically the chair” of a UND pandemic planning and response group. He took not being included in that meeting as a personal slight, and believed that the meeting was arranged by Gerhardt. The report states meetings of that type were arranged by UND President Andrew Armacost, in conjunction with other vice presidents. The report concludes there was no clear indication of how meeting panelists were determined.
Jed Shivers, vice president of finance and operations, told investigators he assumed Plummer would be involved in the town hall meeting, but he was not sure it was a “material issue” that he did not.
Hagen’s report lists a number of other incidents that affected Gerhardt’s relationship with Plummer.
In one incident, Gerhardt said Plummer expressed his condolences but quickly changed the subject when she informed him a friend was in the final stages of life. This, she said, deeply hurt her feelings. After the incident, she grew less interested in a personal relationship with Plummer. Plummer said he changed the subject because he thought he had a connection to a foundation that could start an endowment in Gerhardt’s friend’s name.
Another incident involved what amounts to a misunderstanding over badge designs for UND police officers. Another involved Gerhardt questioning the use of the social medial hashtag #BestCopsAround, saying it could alienate other law enforcement agencies.
Plummer told investigators Gerhardt was demeaning to him in meetings, that they engaged in “highly charged” back and forth exchanges, and that Gerhardt rolled her eyes at him. He said he felt the two were “walking on eggshells” around each other.
“Any time that she can take a jab at me in a meeting, she does,” Plummer told investigators.
Plummer told investigators the relationship between himself, Gerhardt and Halgren had deteriorated to the point that it could not be fixed. He said he took a job with a lower salary “just to be done.”
Plummer is now chief of police at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.