Pambianco: ‘Money not the issue’

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

ARCATA –  Humboldt State University’s former sports information director says he agreed to a minimal $5,000 legal settlement with the school because his age discrimination and job retaliation lawsuit against the Department of Athletics led to stronger departmental accountability and better fundraising practices.

Dan Pambianco said of the settlement, announced by the university March 17, “Associates in the department have shared that additional training has occurred and that the development office has been more involved in examining fundraising processes.

“Also, the primary duties of Athletics development and giving have been reassigned to another individual in the department. While not comprehensive enough, those changes are encouraging,” he said.

Now employed in Eureka in the medical field, Pambianco vowed that he and others would continue to keep a watchful eye on the department’s internal practices via public records requests.

In a prepared statement, the university said it was pleased with the settlement and that Pambianco had agreed never to seek future employment at California State University or its 23 campuses.

In announcing the end to the dispute, HSU alleged that Pambianco’s case made “false claims and lacked evidence.”

Despite agreeing to award the long-time sports information director a $5,000 payment, the university insisted it had fulfilled its pledge when the suit was filed to “put up a vigorous defense against the claims made by Mr. Pambianco.”

Asked if he believed the outcome was just, Pambianco answered, “‘Just’ is not a term I would use to evaluate the settlement.”

However, he said, in addition to the improvements in Athletics practices that he attributed to the impact of his case, his decision to litigate had inspired other HSU employees to share similar experiences of abuse and detrimental treatment, beyond the Department of Athletics.        

“Another positive outcome of filing litigation is how I became a magnet for other individuals who have witnessed and suffered discrimination and harassment in several departments on campus,” he stated. “Through their visits, phone calls, both anonymous and identified, I learned that the abuses reached far beyond Athletics.

“Most important to me in achieving a settlement is something I’ve been adamant about from the start: There is no stipulation preventing me from speaking freely about the misdeeds I’ve witnessed and have evidence of, and I will be able to share that information with others who are interested in pursuing justice.”

Pambianco rebutted the university’s claim that his lawsuit constituted “an unwarranted attack” on Athletics Director Dan Collen and Associate Athletics Director Tom Trepiak, whom he accused of illegally diverting scholarship money.    

Both strenuously denied the accusations and were vindicated when Pambianco dropped that original charge from his multi-pronged suit. The university commissioned an independent audit by CliftonLarsonAllen LLP of Bellevue Wash., which held in March 2015 that the athletic scholarships it examined had been awarded “in accordance with HSU policies” and properly channeled to student accounts.

The school characterized the audit as “broad” and said CliftonLarsonAllen was granted “access to all records [it] requested.”

Without specifying anyone by name, HSU said it believed “many individuals faced unfair and public criticism as this case worked its way through the process, including our many dedicated Athletics donors and fans.”

Pambianco dismissed the complaints. “The university’s efforts to portray individuals as victims of the investigatory process are predictable,” he countered. “They blatantly ignore the history of other lawsuits and complaints arising from the actions of Athletics administrators, many of which were settled with agreements that stipulated non-disclosure.

“Among those include allegations of Title IX [sexual discrimination] violations that resulted in additional outside monitoring for a stipulated period. Despite these incidents and others, the university has continued to support the Athletics administration and attempts to diminish serious problems,” he claimed.

Pambianco contends that if the true reasons for settling his case were to save additional costs, Athletics could have achieved that result if it had dealt with similar issues long ago, before they led to litigation, not only his, but that of others.

As for the outside audit, the former HSU sports official questioned its independence.

CliftonLarsonAllen was paid by the university and it is a firm with which HSU has previously contracted, he said. The fact that it was hired “severely diminishes the audit’s credibility, even though it in fact found procedural issues. What’s very important, but has never been mentioned by the university, is that the whistleblower complaint I filed resulted in an audit conducted by the California State Auditor. That information has not been disclosed, and our efforts to subpoena it were denied.”

Pambianco said he would personally continue “closely monitoring” Athletics’ “donor and budget processes” via the federal Freedom of Information Act “along with other interested parties who have offered to lend their help in the pursuit of justice.”

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