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Dragna signs settlement after more than a year of dispute

A legal dispute over claims that Student Affairs Vice President Jennifer Meningall discriminated against a coworker because of his race has ended with the signing of a $90,000 settlement.

The settlement requires the University and James Dragna — the former senior associate vice president of the division Meningall heads — to not discuss the accusations publicly. It also requires Dragna to refrain from filing additional charges against USF and to never apply for a job at the University again, according to public records obtained by the Oracle.

Last May, Dragna filed a legal complaint with the Hillsborough County Circuit Court, saying that Meningall used race as a factor when deciding not to renew his contract, which ended in October 2007. He did not return phone calls from the Oracle on Friday and Monday.

“It’s the kind of settlement where you agree not to say anything bad about each other, and we move on, he moves on,” said University spokesman Michael Hoad, adding that the University does not have an official statement on the matter.

Meningall was not available for comment Monday, and her administrative specialist, Ann Deen, said the vice president would not discuss the issue.

Dragna will get the $90,000 less attorney’s fees and other expenses, as stipulated by the settlement. The Florida Division of Risk Management — not the University — is covering the cost of the settlement, as well as legal fees.

“From our point of view, that’s a good thing,” Hoad said, comparing the Division of Risk Management to an insurance company that weighs the costs of continuing a court case against settlement-related expenses and determines which option is best.

The lawsuit stems from an Oct. 3, 2007 e-mail Dragna sent to about 80 people, including USF President Judy Genshaft and other high-ranking administrators. In the e-mail, he made the aforementioned accusations and said that Meningall had appointed unqualified friends to positions within her division, mismanaged University funds of up to $750,000, created a “climate of distrust and apprehension” that pervaded Student Affairs and slapped an employee on the arm.

The e-mail sparked an audit of Student Affairs and an investigation into Meningall’s actions, commissioned by the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (DEO). The audit determined that Meningall didn’t illegally manage money and had essentially acted within University guidelines when hiring employees and allocating funds.

The DEO’s investigation found that physical contact had occurred between Meningall and an employee during a meeting, but avoided using Dragna’s verbage  — “slapped” — calling it “hand-to-hand touching.” Because other members didn’t remember the incident, it is unclear whether the contact was meant to be harmful, the report stated.

Additionally, the investigation determined that Meningall verbally threatened employees and postured aggressively, but that her inappropriate comments did not constitute harassment or discrimination.

The DEO report also determined that Meningall did not discriminate when hiring employees, but stated that two employees seemed to have been hired because of the vice president’s loyalty and prior acquaintance rather than the candidates’ abilities.

Though the settlement ends the legal dispute, portions of Dragna’s e-mail linger in the DEO report’s recommendations for change. The investigation concluded that the University should hire an “executive coach” to aid in Meningall’s professional
development and an ombudsman to act as a third party and handle complaints regarding Student Affairs. It also recommended that the vice president attend off-campus leadership conferences.

Meningall has attended the conferences, Hoad said, but the University has decided not to hire the coach.

“(Genshaft) didn’t think it made any sense,” he said. “The responsibility (to instruct Meningall) lies between her and her supervisors.”