Former California University of Pennsylvania president Angelo Armenti Jr. filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday alleging that leaders of the State System of Higher Education and the campus head of the faculty union conspired to strip him of his constitutional rights.
Mr. Armenti, fired by the State System in May, filed his suit in United States Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
The complaint names as defendants the State System, its board of governors and several system leaders including board chair Guido Pichini, State System chancellor John Cavanaugh, board vice chair Marie Conley, state Education Secretary and board member Ronald Tomalis, board audit committee chair Ronald Henry and Michael Slavin, president of Cal U's chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.
The complaint asserts the Mr. Armenti's constitutional rights and state law protections were denied him when he was fired without notice or cause May 16, according to a statement issued by the law firm Leech Tishman Fuscaldo & Lampl.
The statement says Mr. Pichini and Mr. Cavanaugh "released false information or otherwise defamed" the system's then longest serving president to create a public basis for his removal. It said a misleading special investigative report by State System auditors completed in March and made public the day after Mr. Armenti's firing falsely accused him of "financial malfeasance and criminal conduct."
State System officials have not disclosed their reasons for firing Mr. Armenti, who served for two decades. However, the suit alleges that the former president was ousted for speaking out against what the complaint says were politically motivated decisions by State System leaders that were detrimental to the 14 universities and their nearly 120,000 students.
The suit further alleges that Mr. Armenti's filing of a whistle-blower complaint against the State System resulted in retaliation against him. That formal complaint challenged what Mr. Armenti and his attorney said was "an illegal directive issued by the chancellor along with other wrongful or retaliatory acts."
The suit claims the chancellor interferred with a planned furlough program Mr. Armenti established to deal with a budget deficit on campus.
"Today we take a strong step forward in vindicating President Armenti's stellar reputation," his attorney, Steven Toprani, said in a prepared statement. "We allege that defendants' collectively engaged in conduct that destroyed Dr. Armenti's long record of accomplishments for the purpose of creating a false public impression that he was fired for cause.
"This lawsuit is more than the assertion of Dr. Armenti's rights. This suit is a direct challenge to 'the State System' for the manner in which they respond to those who question their political decisions and practices."
The suit seeks a declaratory judgment and that his firing be rescinded.
Kenn Marshall, a State System spokesman, said Wednesday night that the system had no comment on the lawsuit. Its board of governors meets today in Harrisburg.
In saying he was not surprised by the lawsuit, Mr. Slavin alluded to mounting campus debt in the months before Mr. Armenti's firing and faculty complaints about spending on nonacademic projects at a time when Cal U faced a budgetary squeeze.
"He still doesn't believe that what he was doing was harming the university," Mr. Slavin said.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1977.