GARDEN CITY, Kan. A lawsuit filed Wednesday against Garden City Community College and its former president, Herbert Swender, lists several complaints and accusations of Constitutional rights violations.
Last August, Swender was terminated following concerns with reports of bullying, sexual harassment and covering up issues in the college's athletic department.
Wednesday's lawsuit, filed on behalf of several current and former college employees, focuses on actions Swender took, surrounding a series of mandatory-attendance meetings with all faculty and staff in 2017 and 2018.
In one meeting, Swender warned of impending accreditation uncertainties for the college and said there would be "disturbing news" about the college's accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
The lawsuit says Swender violated employees' rights when he learned his remarks were conveyed to the media. The lawsuit says the now former president "went into a rage."
"He excoriated the faculty and staff, ordering them to never have contact with the media without college clearance again," the lawsuit says.
It says Swender also threatened to mete out punishment, not only to the source that conveyed his verbal accreditation concerns but to the faculty and staff at large.
The lawsuit states Swender became abusive and ordered illegal search and seizure of private cell phones belonging to faculty and staff members present at the January 2017 meeting where the accreditation concerns came up.
The lawsuit also accuses Swender of knowingly violating the Establishment Clause by endorsing the protestant religion as the college's official religion and have a pastor lead a prayer in which those in attendance at a meeting were instructed to participate.
"The forced submission to a particular religious viewpoint was not isolated, but pervasive and ongoing during (Swender's) seven-year tenure," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit didn't specify compensation the plaintiffs are seeking, but rather calls for a jury trial "on all issues so triable."
The lawsuit says the employees identified as plaintiffs suffered mental anguish, emotional distress, anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation.