An investigation was underway Friday by an independent panel into allegations filed in a federal lawsuit earlier this week against Tarrant County College and Chancellor Eugene Giovannini.
Tarrant County College officials announced the investigation Friday, saying the independent investigation began shortly after the lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court.
The lawsuit, which names Tarrant County College District as a defendant, alleges the college violated several policies in firing Dr. Kristen Bennett.
Bennett was fired Jan. 31, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Dallas.
The former director of fundraising at Tarrant County College alleges in the lawsuit that she was unduly sanctioned by the institution’s chancellor when she began to intervene in disputes with a subordinate who had a personal relationship with Giovannini.
“The Tarrant County College District does not normally comment on pending litigation or personnel matters. However, due to the seriousness of the allegations made in the recently filed lawsuit, TCCD feels it is important to convey that it immediately hired an independent third party to investigate the allegations when they were first brought to the attention of TCCD,” according to a statement released Friday by Tarrant County College Board Chair Teresa Ayala. “This investigation is ongoing and TCCD is committed to determining the truth in a manner that is fair to all parties involved.”
Ayala said that at the appropriate time, TCCD will respond to the lawsuit in court.
While the investigation is ongoing, Ayala also noted that TCCD will continue to focus on serving its students, employees and Tarrant County ratepayers.
TCCD officials did not release information about who was conducting the investigation or the cost.
Bennett seeks reinstatement and damages, including loss of income.
“She didn’t do anything wrong,” Arlington attorney Frank Hill, who represents Bennett, said in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this week. “She was just cut to pieces.”
Hill said TCC has a history of wrongfully firing employees.
Bennett began her work as Executive Vice President for Advancement on October 1, 2020 and holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Eastern Kentucky University, an MBA from Midway University, and a a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Information Studies from the University of Kentucky.
Bennett is a 22-year fundraising veteran who won the 2020 Education Fundraising Award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE-Washington, DC), according to the trial.
From October 1, 2020 to July 13, 2021, Bennett says, she received nothing but praise from Giovannini.
According to the lawsuit, that all changed in late July 2021 when an employee, who was subordinate to Bennett, fell into a dispute with a colleague who complained to Bennett. The lawsuit does not identify the woman.
Bennett spoke to his subordinate, but the woman continued to cause trouble with her team, according to the suit. The lawsuit states that the woman was Giovannini’s “girlfriend”.
Giovannini then harassed, abused and retaliated against Bennett for talking to the subordinate for corrective action, according to the lawsuit.
Bennett alleges that the college then violated numerous policies because the district failed to notify him in writing of its non-renewal; retaliated for filing a grievance, furloughed her, denied her access to campus; and denied his right to due process.