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Report: ‘Insufficient evidence’ for NSHE chancellor’s complaint

A third-party investigation into higher education Chancellor Melody Rose’s sex-based hostile work environment complaint found “insufficient evidence” to substantiate her claims.

The Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents is holding a special meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday regarding the conclusion the investigation.

Regents will consider whether to reinstate board Chair Cathy McAdoo and Vice Chair Patrick Carter, who were named in the complaint and temporarily stepped down from their leadership roles while the investigation was underway. In recent months, Carol Del Carlo was serving as the temporary chair and Amy Carvalho as vice chair.

NSHE hasn’t publicly released any documents showing the outcome of the investigation into Rose’s complaint that was filed in October 2021.

A Review-Journal public records request was denied last week by the higher education system, which said the records are exempt from disclosure as “confidential attorney-client communications” and “confidential personnel records.”

However, a source provided the Review-Journal on Wednesday with a copy of a 25-page memo dated Feb. 4 from law firm Fennemore Craig to Scott Abbott with law firm Kamer Zucker Abbott, which NSHE retained to conduct an investigation.

“We found insufficient evidence to substantiate an actionable sex-based hostile work environment claim, although our investigation revealed that some of the circumstances about which the Chancellor complained are reflective of an inappropriate professional environment,” according to the memo.

Investigators also found an ethical code of conduct for regents in the Board of Regents handbook “was likely violated in several instances,” the memo states.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a Wednesday letter to regents, which he posted on Twitter, that he was writing “in strong support” of Rose. The letter doesn’t reference Rose’s complaint, the investigation or outcome.

“Her proven track record of leadership at the helm of NSHE during the ongoing pandemic is commendable,” he wrote.

Sisolak, a former regent, said he understands and respects the job that regents do.

“I implore you to put students, faculty, and staff at the center of your decision-making and do so by working closely with Chancellor Rose and the entire NSHE team,” Sisolak wrote. “Your leadership, or lack thereof, could very well shape the future of our state.”

One of Rose’s attorneys, Jennifer Hostetler, said in a Wednesday statement: “Chancellor Rose remains committed to doing the important job she was hired to do for Nevada’s higher education system in an environment built for success. We look forward to working with the Board of Regents to ensure the concerns identified by the report are remedied.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, McAdoo declined to comment, saying she was in a lunch meeting and wasn’t taking any calls at that time.

Carter said Wednesday about the outcome of the investigation, “I think the report kind of speaks for itself.”

Rose, who has been on the job since September 2020, submitted a 21-page memo in early October 2021 to NSHE’s Chief General Counsel Joe Reynolds.

In the complaint, Rose alleged she experienced “abusive treatment” since McAdoo and Carter were selected for their leadership roles. Those positions began July 1, 2021, and are slated to continue through June 30 this year.

Rose, who said she’s the first permanent female NSHE chancellor in 20 years, wrote in the complaint that she heard stories immediately after arriving on the job about “NSHE’s persistent disregard for female employees,” as well as warnings about an “Old Boys Club” environment.

Through interviews with the chancellor, investigators learned she was seeking a handful of remedies, including permanent removal of McAdoo and Carter as board officers, and a public apology from them.

“Based on our conclusion that the Chancellor has not provided sufficient facts to support her claim of a sex-based hostile work environment, we decline to recommend that any of these requests for relief be implemented,” the memo says.

Business groups call for ethics investigation

Several business and labor organizations announced Tuesday they’re calling on the Nevada Commission on Ethics conduct an ethics investigation into McAdoo and Carter.

A letter was signed by the Council for a Better Nevada, Vegas Chamber, AFL-CIO, Asian Chamber of Commerce and Latin Chamber of Commerce Nevada.

The groups raised concerns in the letter to State Commission on Ethics Chair Kim Wallin and Executive Director Ross Armstrong about a report with the outcome of the investigation into Rose’s allegations about McAdoo and Carter.

“The recent report prepared by outside counsel hired by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada in response to serious allegations brought forth by Chancellor Melody Rose raises serious questions about public integrity and possible ethics violations by members of the Board of Regents,” the organizations wrote in the letter, which they released to reporters.

Nevadans deserve “a full and impartial investigation of these charges, not one completed by an outside consultant regularly hired by the Board of Regents to ‘investigate’ the Board of Regents,” they wrote.

Armstrong said Wednesday he received the letter from the business groups early that afternoon and will review it. He said he can’t confirm or deny the existence of an ethics complaint on the matter.

In general, complaints are confidential until after a review panel makes a determination, Armstrong said.

Carter said Wednesday he has seen the letter from the business organizations, but not an ethics complaint.

Results of the investigation

The Board of Regents requested a third-party investigation in October 2021 to determine if “certain allegations of a sex-based hostile work environment” made by Rose against McAdoo and Carter could be substantiated, according to the memo.

Rose also alleged there was conduct that “breached or interfered with her employment agreement,” violated NSHE handbook and polices, and other federal and state laws, according to the document.

“We observed and found noteworthy that the Chancellor sincerely believes all of the statements in her Complaint,” the memo states.

The investigation into Rose’s complaint also found no direct evidence of a hostile workplace, as defined in federal case law interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Many of the chancellor’s comments in the complaint “were based on information relayed to her by others,” the memo states.

In large part, the “hearsay” reported in the complaint couldn’t be corroborated “or appeared to have alternative meaning or intent,” investigators noted.

The chancellor’s allegations

Matters raised throughout Rose’s complaint are likely attributed to factors such as leadership style differences among past and current board officers, and a “misalignment of expectations and views” by the chancellor, regents and others about their roles within the higher education system, according to the memo.

It also outlines possible factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as political differences over policies, and the communication and reporting structure between the chancellor and board leaders, “which may have been exacerbated by the infrequency of in-person meetings.”

Rose submitted two addenda to the complaint — one on Nov. 21, 2021 that described “various acts of perceived retaliation” against her and others by several regents, and one on Jan. 15 with allegations about two additional regents, including Regent Byron Brooks bringing a concealed firearm to a closed-door meeting Dec. 30.

Investigators found with the first addendum there was insufficient evidence to substantiate claims of retaliation.

With the second addendum, allegations demonstrate a “negative dynamic” that has emerged between Rose and certain regents, but “insufficient facts” to support that it was the result of the chancellor’s sex, the memo states.

In her complaint, Rose alleged McAdoo and Carter “attempted to marginalize” her, but investigators weren’t able to substantiate her examples, according to the memo.

Rose also alleged she was hired with a lower salary than UNLV and University of Nevada, Reno, presidents — both of whom have a base salary of $500,000 per year — based on her sex. Her salary is $437,750.

“According to the Chancellor, the pay discrepancy is ‘concerning on its face,’” the memo says. “We disagree.”

The claim is inconsistent with public records that show NSHE chancellors have consistently been paid less than UNLV and University of Nevada, Reno, presidents, the memo states. Also, the board set the salary for chancellor before she’d been appointed and approved.

In order to show wage discrimination, Rose would have to show that NSHE “pays different wages to employees of the opposite sex for ‘substantially equal work,’” the memo said.

“We were not provided with any facts to support that she performs ‘substantially equal work’ as Presidents,” the investigator wrote. “On the contrary, several witnesses stated that the positions were not similar at all.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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