The former head of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania police department is suing the university, various officials there and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education in the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania.
According to a 31-page document filed Monday, Kevin Thelen, 59, who was fired as director of IUP’s Department of Public Safety and University Police on Feb. 5, is alleging:
• Retaliation, among other things, for exercising his right of free speech regarding matters of public concern, and for filing a state workers’ compensation claim.
The latter followed a Jan. 15 incident in which Thelen “tripped over exposed metal due to crumbling concrete at IUP’s gas tanks and hurt his shoulder.” Thelen had surgery on March 20 to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder but “was denied access to his sick and holiday leave accrual during the recovery process” by IUP Vice President for Administration and Finance Dr. Debra L. Fitzsimons.
• Discrimination on the basis of disability, age and gender.
Parties named as defendants are IUP, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (as Thelen said he was hired by PASSHE), IUP President Dr. Michael Driscoll, Fitzsimons and former two-time IUP Interim Vice President Susanna C. Sink.
Fitzsimons was named in December 2019 to succeed Dr. Cornelius Wooten, who left IUP for a similar job at North Carolina Central University. In his lawsuit, Thelen cited pledges made before he was hired in August 2015.
“Prior to taking the position, Mr. Thelen received assurances from Dr. Wooten that the administration would back him to make changes in the (police) department and increase accountability among employees,” the legal filing stated.
The lawsuit alleges problems getting that support.
“From the start, there were several personnel issues, including in 2015 when an officer seized evidence from a student’s room (beer, drugs, drug paraphernalia) and then falsified a police report about the destruction of the beer,” according to the court filing. “The officer kept the beer for personal consumption, falsified his report, lied about the situation to Mr. Thelen during the internal interview and ultimately was recommended for termination.”
However, instead of termination, IUP transferred the individual to the facilities department as a laborer, the court filing went on.
Other disciplinary matters also were listed in Thelen’s filing.
Not named as a defendant but cited in the lawsuit is interim public safety director Anthony Clement, a retired Indiana Borough Police Department lieutenant and, according to the suit, Sink’s brother. Another of Sink’s relatives also is mentioned in the suit.
“In September 2018, Ms. Sink’s niece Rebecca Clement, who was working in another department as a clerk, applied for a promotion in Mr. Thelen’s department as a Public Safety Administrative Assistant,” the legal filing stated. “Both Mr. Thelen and Lt. Doug Campbell preferred" an employee who worked in the police department.
That allegedly prompted two other IUP employees to spread rumors that the preferred employee received the promotion because she was having an affair with Thelen.
“We do not comment on litigation,” IUP Executive Director for Media Relations Michelle Fryling said Tuesday evening.
According to the court filing, Thelen filed an administrative charge on or about June 9 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, age and disability. It also was cross-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
On or about Sept. 9, the filing went on, “the EEOC issued a Right to Sue notice allowing Mr. Thelen to place this matter in court.” In addition, the former IUP police chief is moving “for leave to file an amended complaint so as to raise any additional claims that are currently unexhausted.”
Three attorneys from the Pittsburgh law firm of Lieber Hammer Huber and Paul, James B. Lieber, Thomas M. Huber and Jacob M. Simon signed the complaint. They are asking for a jury trial in the matter.
“Mr. Thelen seeks all remedies and damages permitted under Title IX, including, but not limited to, back pay, front pay, emotional distress and reputation harm damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, costs, and interest,” the attorneys wrote.