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Former professor sues GW over SEAS buyout packages

Timline of the Richard Soland buyout lawsuit

Early 2008

GW professor Richard Soland announces his intention to
retire and inquires about the possibility of a voluntary separation package.

April 2008

Soland receives a letter saying his separation package has been approved.

November 2008

Soland receives the terms of his separation package, which include a base academic-year salary of $162,653, effective Jan. 1, 2009.

Oct. 23, 2009

Faculty in the School of Engineering and Applied Science are notified
of a school-wide voluntary separating program.

Dec. 7, 2009

Soland asks if he is eligible for the buyout, and is told by former
Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Don Lehman that he is not.

Febuary 2010

Soland receives a formal denial for the buyout.

April 2010

Soland appeals the decision in a lawsuit against the University.

Nov. 24, 2010

Soland files his lawsuit against the University in the U.S.
District Court for the District of Columbia.

Feb. 21, 2011

Date the University must respond to the lawsuit.

A former professor is suing the University for failing to notify him of an upcoming school-wide School of Engineering and Applied Science buyout program while he was in the process of taking an individual buyout, according to court documents.

Richard Soland, who was a professor of operations research in SEAS, retired in December 2009 with an individual buyout package that was approved in April 2008. About 18 months later, the School of Engineering launched a buyout plan for full-time professors who had been working at GW since July 1994 or earlier, a buyout Soland said he would have qualified for.

Soland alleges that neither SEAS Dean David Dolling or then-Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman told him about the buyout plan, which would have given the professor about $150,000 more when he retired.

Had Soland known about the plan, he would’ve kept his position five months longer, “so as to be eligible to receive approximately $325,000 in severance benefits,” court documents said.

Soland, who started at GW in 1978, would have been eligible to receive double his 2009 base salary if he accepted the school-wide separation package. Instead, Soland left with only his base salary – $162,653.

“Mr. Lehman did not inform Plaintiff that any SEAS-wide voluntary separation program was in the works,” the complaint states.

Lehman told Soland Dec. 7, 2009, that he didn’t believe the professor was eligible for the program’s benefits because “in Mr. Lehman’s view, Plaintiff’s ‘full-time active status’ with GW ended at the conclusion of the Fall 2008 semester,” according to court documents.

Soland argued that the GW Faculty Code only has two status options for personnel, either retired or active, and went ahead with submitting paperwork for the 2009 separation plan.

But in February 2010 Lehman formally denied – on behalf of his office and GW – Soland’s claim. Soland wasn’t defined as a full-time active status faculty member under the plan, Lehman’s letter said according to court documents, because after Dec. 31, 2008, Soland didn’t attend faculty meetings, assist with administrative work or perform academic duties like other full-time faculty.

Soland appealed this decision in April 2010, which was also denied two months later, according to the complaint. Lehman allegedly admitted the separation plan doesn’t define “full-time regular active faculty member,” but argued that Soland didn’t meet a generally accepted definition of the status.

Lehman also claimed, according to the complaint, that faculty had to be employed through at least May 31, 2010, to be eligible for the plan.

Soland’s complaint argues, “the only reason Plaintiff agreed to resign effective December 31, 2009, is that he was not made aware that he would need to remain employed at GW after that time in order to qualify for the enhanced benefits offered under the Plan.”

Jason Ehrenberg, one of Soland’s attorneys, declined to comment on the case, saying his policy is to “not comment on pending litigation.”

University spokeswoman Candace Smith also declined to comment on the case, saying it is against University policy to comment on ongoing litigation.

Soland is seeking a severance payment from the University equal to what he would have received if he had taken the later buyout option, as well as attorney’s fees and other fees.

GW must file a response to the complaint by Feb. 21.

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