ST. GEORGE — Kelle Stephens was reinstated Thursday as president of Dixie Technical College, one week after she filed a lawsuit alleging a lack of due process in the decision to fire her five months ago.
Stephens, who was fired as president of the school in January, was reinstated by a 12-1 vote by the board of trustees for the Utah System of Technical Colleges, effective July 1. In exchange for Stephens dropping all her legal claims against the organization, she will also receive a $100,000 settlement and a salary raise of approximately $14,000.
The decision came during a special board meeting via conference call. The specific reason Stephens was reinstated by the board of trustees was not shared during the 10-minute meeting, but it took place exactly one week after Stephens filed a lawsuit on May 31 against the Utah System of Technical Colleges and its commissioner Dave Woolstenhulme.
What the lawsuit says
Stephens’ lawsuit alleges Woolstenhulme “intentionally” and “deceitfully” defamed her and misrepresented her to the board of trustees, which the lawsuit claims is what led her to be fired. It also alleges Stephens was fired without the board of trustees allowing her due process to defend herself before she was fired.
Details on a months-long feud between Woolstenhulme and Stephens were included in her lawsuit, including other happenings that led up to the board of trustees’ decision to fire her.
The lawsuit mentions an anonymous letter and audio recordings of Stephens from a closed meeting with her executive team that was sent to Woolstenhulme in December 2016. The contents of the letter and recordings has not been publicly released, but Stephens’ lawsuit claims the letter was “defamatory” and the recording was “private” and “taken out of context.”
The letter and recordings were subsequently sent to the board of trustees and several state legislators, according to Stephens’ lawsuit. Because of what was contained in the letter and recordings, Woolstenhulme decided to put Stephens on probation in January 2017, which lasted until June 2017, according to the lawsuit.
Stephens’ lawsuit also claims Woolstenhulme incorrectly assumed and perpetuated the idea Stephens committed the board of trustees to a $1 million increase in the bond to build Dixie Tech’s new campus before the increase was actually approved. Without consulting with Stephens, Woolstenhulme placed a stop-work order on the building project of the campus in February 2017 because of this assumption, which cost the school $126,000, according to the lawsuit.
After Woolstenhulme held 18 closed meetings over 12 months with the board of trustees, the decision was made to fire Stephens in January, according to the lawsuit. Stephens was given only 30 minutes at one of the meetings to defend herself, according to the lawsuit.
“During this entire process, president Stephens was effectively excluded from the process until the day of her termination, and then was given only 30 minutes, and when she ran over the limit, the trustees complained about her not being considerate of their time,” Stephens’ lawsuit alleges.
As a result of the anonymous letter, recordings, rumors that were spread, Woolstenhulme’s actions and Stephens getting fired, her character and reputation were “assassinated” and “permanently destroyed with city, county and state government,” according to her lawsuit. Stress from the situation allegedly caused Stephens to suffer from “severe anxiety and feelings of helplessness.”
After the board of trustees voted to reinstate Stephens to her role as president Thursday, Stephens said she “would just like to say thank you.” Stephens officially dropped her lawsuit against Woolstenhulme and Utah System of Technical Colleges on Friday.
“I love Dixie Technical College,” Stephens said. “I love the staff and the students and the faculty.”
Stephen Wade, a member of the board of trustees and president of Wade Automotive Group, said at the meeting this outcome is one that nobody expected.
“A lot of turmoil has been involved here for a lot of people,” Wade said.
The only vote against reinstating Stephens came from Scott Theurer, a dentist in Logan representing Bridgerland Technical College for the board of trustees.
The specific reason Stephens is being reinstated to her job was not shared at the meeting, nor is it something the Utah System of Technical Colleges will comment on, assistant commissioner Joseph Demma said.
Asked if he supported the decision to reinstate Stephens, Demma simply said: “It’s a decision made by the board of trustees, and I support the board of trustees, of course.”
The previous search for a new president of Dixie Tech after Derek Hadlock had been serving as the acting president will be suspended and the candidates will be notified, board of trustees chairman Jim Evans said.
Attempts by St. George News to reach Stephens or Woolstenhulme were unsuccessful. Daniel Wilde, Stephens’ attorney, did not immediately respond to St. George News’ requests for comment. And Steven Densley, assistant Utah attorney general and legal representative for Woolstenhulme and Utah System of Technical Colleges declined to comment on the case because of confidentiality agreements.