OXFORD —The widow of a Miami University official is suing the school claiming her husband’s suicide last year came in the wake of “bullying” from his bosses.
The wrongful death lawsuit, which was recently filed in both the Butler County Common Pleas Court and the Ohio Court of Claims, contends a former assistant provost at Miami suffered emotional distress at the hands of his superiors leading him to take his own life last year.
Miami officials, however, dispute the lawsuit, describing it as “unjustified.”
Adriene Knight, wife of William Knight — who until his death was assistant provost for institutional research and effectiveness, filed the lawsuit against Miami, its Board of Trustees and three school officials including Jason Osborne, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
Among the allegations made by the widow claims Osborne — and others supervising Knight’s employment including Lindsay Carpenter, associate vice president for budget and analytics — “conspired to create a paper trail of lies about (Knight).”
According to the filing, “in the high-pressure (and) high-stakes environment of higher education, this disparagement of (Knight’s) ethics and diligence was a death knell to (Knight’s) career.”
Later, the lawsuit claims, the two Miami officials were joined by Ruth Groom, associate vice president for academic personnel, and “engaged in a malicious pattern of harassment, bullying and gaslighting, berating (Knight), questioning his skills and his ability to do his work, commenting on (Knight’s) lack of intelligence and questioning his commitment and loyalty to Miami University.”
Knight, according to his wife, was driven into depression, applied with the school for medical leave but the application process, she alleges was purposefully stalled by Miami officials.
Later, Knight was ordered to attend a personnel meeting on April 7, 2021 but in the early morning hours of that day he overdosed on over-the-counter medications and died, according to the lawsuit.
In what is described in the lawsuit as a final note to his wife, Knight allegedly wrote: “I am so sorry. I am sorry that I just wasn’t strong enough this time. My greatest hope was to make it to retirement with you and just live our life free from worry and fear, but when I was told yesterday that I have to attend a meeting about ‘personnel issues,’ presumably about firing … me, they finally broke me.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough to pull myself back up this time.”
Knight’s widow was unavailable for comment Tuesday but her attorney, Angela Wallace said “Mrs. Knight brought suit against Miami University in order to bring the truth to light, in honor of her late husband.”
“We believe that the communications from Mr. Knight’s supervisors will clearly show that they did not, in fact, ‘respond with compassion’ as the university alleges. Instead, the evidence will show that Mr. Knight’s supervisors acted maliciously to harass and bully him,” said Wallace.
Wallace said Knight’s wife is seeking monetary compensation and court costs.
“Ohio’s civil rules don’t require us to provide a specific damage calculation unless our damages are less than $25,000. Our complaint simply states that we are seeking in excess of $25,000.”
Miami Spokeswoman Alecia Lipton said “Knight was a valued colleague and member of the Miami community. His family and friends remain in our thoughts as they grieve, ask questions, and seek peace.”
Lipton added, however, “we believe the lawsuit filed against the university regarding the death of Dr. Knight is unjustified.”
“When Dr. Knight expressed his concerns that his mental health challenges were significantly affecting his work, his supervisor and colleagues responded with compassion and provided support and resources to help him succeed,” she said.
Wallace said: “although we filed suit in Butler County Common Pleas, our primary suit was filed in the Ohio Court of Claims, as Miami University is a public institution. The next step will be the defendants’ answer to the complaint. They have 28 days from the date they are served.”
In October 2022, The Miami Student newspaper published an article that looked at a faculty survey regarding Osborne’s three years served as provost.
A committee report on the results did not publish because Osborne resigned four days before it was to be finalized. The Miami Student got those results and reported he was not a popular provost. He earned the lowest score in valuing and achieving high faculty morale.
The survey also included a majority of negative comments in which Osborne was criticized for problems with shared governance, diversity and inclusion in hiring decisions.
More of The Miami Student’s article may be read online at miamistudent.net.
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