Education

Ugly Last Fight Between DU and Prof Who Sued University and Won

A portrait of Kris McDaniel-Miccio and a look at the University of Denver law school.
A portrait of Kris McDaniel-Miccio and a look at the University of Denver law school. Courtesy of Kris McDaniel-Miccio/YouTube file photo
Do institutions hold grudges?

This question is raised by the latest — and presumably last — fight between the University of Denver and Kris McDaniel-Miccio, a renowned scholar who previously taught at DU's Sturm College of Law. And while a resolution now seems to be in the offing, it didn't appear until after she refused to take a payoff conditioned on her pledge to stay quiet about it.

Back in 2016, McDaniel-Miccio was among the intervenors in a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that accused DU of paying not just one of its female full law professors less than the mean average salary of male full profs at the law school, but all of them. Two years later, in 2018, the university agreed to pay $2.66 million to settle the complaint, albeit without offering an apology for the unfair compensation.

This time around, the dispute is on a much smaller scale. After DU agreed to ship the contents of McDaniel-Miccio's office to her in New York state, where she now lives, a significant amount of the material was damaged or destroyed en route — and the university later said it would only compensate her for the loss if she signed a non-disclosure agreement of the sort she and her colleagues had refused when the lawsuit was settled. Indeed, McDaniel-Miccio says that the plaintiffs accepted a significantly lower amount in order to ensure that the pact would be public. To add insult to injury, a DU representative told her in an email exchange shared with Westword that treasured photographs of her nephews that remain in the university's possession would only be returned if she inked the NDA.

"This may seem like a little thing," McDaniel-Miccio admitted earlier this week. "But it is not, because it is emblematic of an institution steeped in behavior that is at once unacceptable and profoundly offensive. ... I am certainly not willing to sign an NDA regarding the destruction of my personal property and to allow photographs of my nephews to be held 'hostage.'"

McDaniel-Miccio doesn't begrudge DU for wanting to repurpose her office, especially since she's no longer a Colorado resident. But she wasn't comfortable flying here to collect her possessions during the pandemic, given that she and her wife both contracted serious cases of COVID-19 that led to long and painful recoveries.

After rejecting the settlement's non-disclosure agreement, McDaniel-Miccio contacted Westword. DU's response to our subsequent outreach: "Third-party vendors were used to pack and ship certain items that Professor McDaniel-Miccio had left behind in her office. Unfortunately, some of those items were damaged by the vendors. Although not at fault, the University of Denver negotiated with Professor McDaniel-Miccio to reach a standard settlement agreement regarding her damaged goods. The University has communicated to Professor McDaniel-Miccio numerous times that she is welcome to collect her remaining items or to designate someone to collect them on her behalf."

This response infuriated McDaniel-Miccio. "I have communicated on at least three occasions I will not sign" a non-disclosure agreement, she said. "I have also provided my FedEx number so they can send my photos. That is all that remains. So my traveling to Denver from New York to retrieve two photos that are in the possession of DU is at once ridiculous and an affront to what are the facts. DU is playing games. I am not. I want the photos of my nephews, and it is truly despicable they have tied return of two photos to my signing the agreement, something they conveniently side-step. Once again DU is dealing in subterfuge as well as falsehoods. But then, based upon their past behavior I shouldn’t be surprised."

Late on October 27, McDaniel-Miccio emailed an update to Westword: "After an hour of back and forth with the deputy counsel at DU, she agreed to redact the objectionable paragraphs and to release pictures of my nephews."

That move pleased McDaniel-Miccio, but not enough to persuade her to keep her thoughts about DU to herself. She concludes: "It appears DU has learned absolutely nothing regarding the treatment of staff."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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