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Whistleblower Lawsuit Against University Of Louisville Alleges Retaliation By President Bendapudi

A whistleblower lawsuit recently filed against the University of Louisville alleges the school’s then-president, Neeli Bendapudi, who is now president of Penn State, retaliated against a high-ranking employee for reporting a former assistant basketball coach’s extortion attempt to law enforcement.

Amy Shoemaker, Louisville’s former deputy general counsel and associate athletics director, claims that she was demoted after Bendapudi became angry that Shoemaker informed the university’s police chief in 2021 about former assistant men’s basketball coach Dino Gaudio’s threat to head coach Chris Mack to expose alleged recruiting violations if he were not paid a lump sum of 18 months salary in severance upon his termination.

Gaudio eventually pleaded guilty to a federal charge of attempted extortion.

The lawsuit also alleged Bendapudi’s chief of staff, Michael Wade Smith, who now holds the same position at Penn State, informed Shoemaker she should not have gone to police but instead should have let Bendapudi decide what to do.

Bendapudi, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was Louisville’s president from April 2018 until she was appointed as Penn State’s next leader in December 2021. She officially took office at Penn State in May.

“My commitment to ethical conduct and treating people the right way has been unwavering throughout my career,” Bendapudi said in a statement provided by the university. “The teams I have built at multiple institutions reflect these bedrock values. I have and will continue to lead with integrity and have complete confidence in my senior vice president and chief of staff to do the same.”

Penn State Board of Trustees Chair Matthew Schuyler said in a provided statement that “we would not comment,” on a lawsuit against another school.

“The Board of Trustees has complete confidence in the leadership of President Bendapudi and senior vice president and chief of staff Michael Wade Smith,” Schuyler said.

Despite advice that he should be accompanied by another employee, Mack met alone with Gaudio on March 17, 2021, to inform him he would not be retained. Gaudio became angry and, in an expletive-laden response that was secretly recorded by Mack, demanded the payment or else he would expose the alleged NCAA violations. He also demanded a meeting the next day to go over a contract for the payment.

Mack then met with Shoemaker and athletic department officials to report the conversation and play the recording. Shoemaker says that she believed Gaudio committed a crime and she expressed security concerns because of “Gaudio’s emotional state and his stated intent to return to campus the next day for a meeting with Mack with the expectation that he would be paid.”

As a mandatory reporter, according to the lawsuit, Shoemaker reported the incident to UofL Police Department Chief Gary Lewis that night. Vince Tyra, athletic director at the time, reported it to Bendapudi in a phone call the same night.

During a video conference call with Shoemaker and Smith the following morning, Bendapudi allegedly expressed “frustration and anger that Tyra contacted Chief Lewis the night before, including concerns about the negative publicity the incident will cause.” Shoemaker corrected Bendapudi and said it was her, not Tyra, who contacted the police.

Smith allegedly called Shoemaker on March 19 and told her she should not have reported the incident to the police and that decisions about what would be reported should be left to the president, adding that Bendapudi was “very upset,” according to the lawsuit.

“Bendapudi is the University,” Smith allegedly told Shoemaker, and decisions on reporting similar incidents belong to the president.

During a video meeting on April 8 with multiple athletic department and legal personnel, Shoemaker says Bendapudi “berate[d]” her for reporting the attempted extortion and for assisting with the FBI investigation of the incident.

“You cannot trust the FBI!” Bendapudi allegedly said, later adding that the FBI is “tricky,” according to the filing.

Later that day, Bendapudi sent Shoemaker a text message saying she was sorry if she was too hard on her. “I am just worried. Appreciate you,” the message stated.

Bendapudi told her in a subsequent message that she had no question about Shoemaker’s integrity and ethics, according to the lawsuit.

But Shoemaker says that after reporting the incident she felt a shift in her role related to matters she had previously overseen.

According to the lawsuit, she was excluded from phone calls about an ongoing NCAA investigation that dated back to 2017, from executive sessions of the board of the University of Louisville Athletic Association (the nonprofit that controls the school’s athletics program) and from an accreditation process she had co-chaired.

Shoemaker also says she was cut off from communication with Smith and Bendapudi, removed from the General Counsel’s group calendar, and left out of conversations about the decision to discipline Mack for violating school policies in his dealings with Gaudio.

“From the date of her reporting the extortion to ULPD through November 2021, Plaintiff is effectively frozen out by the President’s office from her job responsibilities as Deputy General Counsel for those legal matters not otherwise directed by Vince Tyra,” Shoemaker’s attorney, Hans Poppe, wrote.

In the months after the Gaudio incident, Bendapudi allegedly continued to express anger that the attempted extortion was reported to law enforcement.

On November 29, UofL General Counsel Angela Curry met with Shoemaker to discuss her future, “including a reduction in responsibilities and salary paid from counsel’s office,” Poppe wrote. (The university paid 25% of Shoemaker’s salary and the Athletic Association paid 75%.)

Shoemaker described the reduction in responsibilities as a “demotion” and “constructive termination.” She says it confirmed her “belief that she was purposefully being diminished in her role as counsel, culminating in her being advised she was being stripped of that role.”

The lawsuit accuses Bendapudi and Smith of orchestrating the freeze out and job reduction in retaliation for Shoemaker reporting the Gaudio incident to police.

“Based on information and belief, the retaliation against Plaintiff orchestrated by Defendants’ agents Bendapudi and Smith was motivated in part by the President’s ongoing effort to negotiate a salary increase with the UofL Board of Trustees in August of 2021 and in furtherance of soliciting employment offers at other universities. As a result, she desired to avoid a ‘blemish’ on her record with a scandal while at UofL,” Poppe wrote.

Bendapudi was announced as Penn State’s next president on December 9, 10 days after Shoemaker was effectively demoted. Her first hire at Penn State was Smith, as senior vice president and chief of staff.

On November 30, Shoemaker was offered and ultimately accepted a job at Miami University. She says she filed an internal whistleblower retaliation complaint with UofL in December but that it was never investigated.

The 12-page lawsuit against UofL claims two counts of violating the Kentucky Whistleblower Act and one count of retaliating against a participant in a legal process.

Shoemaker is seeking unspecified damages.

“As a result of Defendants’ retaliation against Plaintiff, she was forced out of her employment with UofL on behalf of ULAA, lost two terms of sabbatical pay, incurred relocation costs, and suffered mental and emotional anguish by relocating away from her family and the UofL community where she had spent the better part of her life and career,” Poppe wrote

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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