Former DSU professor’s lawsuit against school can proceed to trial

DOVER — A once tenured professor’s lawsuit against former employer Delaware State University claiming unlawful termination associated with age and job duties has enough merit for a trial, a judge ruled last week.

In a 44-page decision issued Friday, Kent County Superior Court Judge Abigail LeGrow maintained Dr. Al-Sameen T. Khan presented enough evidence to at least put the suit before a jury to determine its fate.

DSU believes it had just cause to discharge Dr. Kahn on Jan. 16, 2013, after he allegedly stonewalled administrators seeking information regarding a technology network he developed and managed, and was later switched to oversight by the university’s Information Technology department.

Dr. Khan had been employed by DSU for more than 25 years as a professor of electrical engineering, beginning on Jan. 1, 1988.

The College of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology network developed problems on March 16, 2012, and eventually crashed, the opinion stated.

The school sent Dr. Khan a letter demanding information originally sought on March 13, 2012, the ruling indicated, and suggested a failure to do so “would be considered insubordination, a failure to perform professional responsibilities, serious personal misconduct [.] and a deliberate and serious violation of rights of other members of [CMNST] and [DSU].”

Dr. Khan argues he provided all information to which he had access after resigning as the network’s overseer on March 12, 2012, and suggested his brother Saoud Khan managed day-to-day operations and software, and information could “likely be found in his office,” the opinion read.

Seeking information

Saoud Khan was ill and absent from his office, however, and was terminated by DSU on March 20, 2012, according to facts of the case.

“So began a flurry of e-mails and written communications that escalated with a fervor I doubt any of the participants anticipated,” Judge LeGrow wrote.

While Dr. Khan was covered by a collective bargaining agreement as a professor, he was also considered a separate director of IT through a supplemental paid position.

DSU argues Dr. Khan “was not disciplined for his actions as IT director, but rather for his actions and inactions after he resigned from that position,” the opinion concluded. He was still a professor after the resignation, the school said, and thus obligated to “assist the university, maintain professionalism, and carry out reasonable assignments.”

At an upcoming trial, Judge LeGrow opined “the jury must make the factual determination of whether Dr. Khan did everything he reasonably could do in responding to the administration’s requests and, if he did not, whether his responses amounted to personal misconduct ‘of such a nature as to warrant and evoke the condemnation of the academic community …’ “

A future trial date was to be scheduled this week.

The opinion cited an internal investigation by DSU released on June 5, 2012, suggested “that the March 19, 2012 network failure was not an accident and was the result of deliberate acts by an unnamed individual …”

According to the opinion, DSU concedes there’s no evidence that “Dr. Khan sabotaged the network or otherwise intentionally caused it to crash …”

Investigation into the root cause of the network crash was never conducted by the University.

While Provost Alton Thompson referenced the believed absence of a CMNST network backup during a meeting in September 2012, the opinion said Dr. Khan told investigating school officials about one in May 2012.

Rocky relationship

According to the judge, all confirm that Dr. Khan and CMNST Dean Noureddine Melikechi, a co-defendant in the lawsuit, disagreed on many topics; Dr. Khan apparently disagreed with the dean’s vision of the college and resented his perceived “inappropriately interfering” in physics department personnel decisions.

The suit alleges Dean Melikechi pushed to replace older professors with younger ones, indicating a bias that left the department staffed with less experienced personnel.

The opinion said that while DSU maintains Dean Melikechi had no input into Dr. Khan’s dismissal, “The record, however, reflects facts indicating that Dean Melikechi actively was involved in the process leading up to Dr. Khan’s discharge and that Provost [Alton] Thompson deferred to” the dean’s “decisions or recommendations.”

After approving of a draft letter of termination to Dr. Khan, according to the judge, Dean Melikechi “opined that Dr. Khan brought this on himself.

“His desire to take the University hostage back fired on him and his brother.”

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