Former CFO sues Columbia

By Lindsey Woods

Columbia’s former Chief Financial Officer Michael DeSalle filed a lawsuit against the college, claiming he was wrongfully terminated for supporting former Columbia professor Zafra Lerman, who is in an ongoing legal battle with the school over her termination in 2009.

The suit, which was filed on June 21, comes right after incoming Columbia CFO Ken Gotsch, who was hired in May, starts his new position at the college.

DeSalle was serving as CFO when Lerman, who was a full time tenured faculty member and head of the Science Institute before her termination, sued Columbia in April 2010, claiming the college violated her civil rights and discriminated against her on the basis of gender, national origin (Israeli) and religion (Jewish), as previously reported by The Chronicle on April 26, 2010. The college claimed Lerman was fired based on misappropriation of grant funds. DeSalle had been aware of the allegedly improper transaction and believed that it was lawful and proper, according to the suit.

DeSalle was fired in May 2011 after testifying in the Lerman lawsuit, saying that he did not believe she had misappropriated funds. DeSalle’s suit claims he had, previous to his testimony, voiced his concerns over the investigation of Lerman in regards to the allegedly misappropriated funds to President Warrick L. Carter and former Provost Steve Kapelke. Columbia’s Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel Annice Kelly told DeSalle not to further investigate the matter after he voiced his concerns, according to the lawsuit.

DeSalle was first placed on an involuntary paid sabbatical after he was deposed in the Lerman case, and shortly thereafter, was officially fired. Before his firing, DeSalle had planned on leaving his CFO position to become a member of Columbia’s tenured faculty in August 2011, which was an option negotiated to him in his contract, according to the suit.

DeSalle is seeking damages in the amount of lost pay, future salary, deferred compensation, supplemental compensation and benefits as well as compensatory damages for mental pain, emotional distress, humiliation and suffering, according to the suit. He is also seeking punitive damages.

The college declined to discuss the lawsuit based on a policy against commenting on personnel issues, according to Diane Doyne, associate vice president of Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising.

For additional information on the complaint, please click here: R. Michael DeSalle Complaint