A former Penn State employee has filed a lawsuit against the university.
Karen Dzenkowski, of State College, filed the lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County and has requested unspecified monetary damages. The lawsuit alleges a hostile work environment, wrongful failure to promote, retaliation and wrongful termination by the university caused Dzenkowski a loss of income, a loss of benefits, “embarrassment, emotional distress, humiliation, indignation and a diminished quality of life.”
Dzenkowski started working in the university’s athletics office in August 2008 and was allegedly verbally abused by a supervisor, named only as Ms. Smith in court documents, from the beginning of her employment. She reported the alleged harassment in October 2010 when she made a complaint to the human resources office.
“The university does not comment on active legal matters,” Penn State Athletics said in a statement.
According to the lawsuit, the alleged verbal abuse typically occurred in front of customers or other staff. The incidents allegedly continued for several years despite repeated reports to the human resources office.
Dzenkowski expressed interest in a job opening, which would have been a promotion from the position she held for almost six years, in April 2014. Smith allegedly said she’d never get the position because she wanted “a male, a young one.” She applied for the position, but was allegedly not interviewed. Two men in their 20s were hired for the position.
Dzenkowski met with another supervisor, named in the lawsuit only as Mr. Garner, in August 2014 and September 2014 to discuss Smith’s behavior. Garner allegedly refused to assist her. She expressed concerns to him again in April 2016 when she was preparing to take six weeks leave, but he allegedly said he could not help her.
Smith allegedly screamed at Dzenkowski within five minutes of her return from leave in June 2016. Smith and Garner met with her in July 2016 to discuss concerns about her work performance and devised a performance improvement plan in October 2016.
Dzenkowski met all of the metrics set in the plan, but was fired in January, according to the lawsuit, which claimed the termination was discriminatory and not based on performance concerns.