My Alma Mater is Being Sued

I’m saddened by the news that the former president of Saint Mary’s College, Janice Cervelli, is suing the college over what she claims is her forced resignation last fall. Ms. Cervelli had just been installed as president in 2016, after a lengthy national search, and by all accounts she was doing a good job. I had the pleasure of meeting her during our Reunion last June, and my fellow alumnae and I were all impressed. So we were surprised to hear about her sudden departure in the fall. The departure was not explained at the time, and now we learn, from news reports of the complaint filed with the lawsuit, that Ms. Cervelli felt that the chair of the board, Mary L. Burke, forced her out.

Publicity like this is not good for a small, private college that relies on its good reputation to attract aspiring students and superior faculty. The expense of defending this lawsuit makes me cringe to think about making further donations to my alma mater. And the board will be distracted by defending this lawsuit instead of improving the College.

More importantly, Saint Mary’s is a Christian college, and Christians are supposed to resolve their disputes within the church, not in civil courts (I Corinthians 6:1-7). Many Christian employers include a clause in employee contracts requiring any disputes to be resolved through Christian mediation or arbitration, rather than in court. Apparently President Cervelli’s contract didn’t have a clause like this, or at least no one has mentioned it so far.

Both parties could still decide that a private mediation or arbitration, especially one that holds them to biblical principles, would be better for all concerned than dragging this through the public courts. I am praying that they find a way to resolve this matter quickly, fully, and privately.

Woman Apologizes to Zoo

A woman visiting an Arizona zoo Saturday decided she wanted a “selfie” with a jaguar, so she climbed over the barrier, and the jaguar attacked her. Other visitors helped her escape. She was treated in hospital for injuries to her arm.

But here’s the best part: the next day, the young woman returned to the zoo (the Wildlife World Zoo in Litchfield Park, near Phoenix) and told staff that the incident was her fault, she was sorry, and she “feels horrible about the bad publicity the zoo is getting regarding the incident,” according to the Zoo’s spokeswoman, Kristy Morcum.

This woman, who is so far unnamed, did the right thing. She took responsibility for her foolish act, and apologized. This may happen more often than we know, and it just doesn’t get reported, so it’s good to hear of someone who apologized, promptly and fully, for their error. If she’s truly sorry, she’ll be willing to accept consequences; perhaps she could be a docent at the zoo, reminding others that these are still wild animals?

Before You Send That Tweet…

Dear Twitter User:

Before you hit “send,” please consider:

  1.  What’s urging you to send this tweet? (a) anger/rage; (b) contribution to the national dialogue on a topic; (c) fun; (d) gaining notoriety.
  2.  What requires that you send it now?  (a) I’m shocked and I want people to I know it; (b) if I don’t send it now, my tweet will be buried in hundreds of thousands of others; (c) I’ll forget about it in like 30 seconds; (d) I won’t reach my target goal of followers.
  3.  Is this tweet likely to embarrass/offend/harass anyone?  If yes: (a) I don’t care, because of my Constitutional right to free speech.   (b) I don’t know; I really haven’t thought about it and anyway, everybody seems offended about everything these days; (c) the only person my tweet is aimed at deserves the slam and I’m not thinking about anybody else right now.
  4.  Is there any possibility that your comment may be wrong factually, or run contrary to a sense of ethics or morality?  If yes:  (a) I’m tweeting alternative facts; (b) whose ethics and morality? (c) I don’t understand the question.
  5.  If public pressure or your own change of heart/mind prompted you to retract your comment and issue an apology, would you:  (a) send another tweet apologizing to everyone you may have offended; (b) apologize, but cite other sources as prompting your hysteria; (c) construct your apology so that you’re really not apologizing for anything, since that’s honestly how you feel but you know you need to “look good.”
  6. In the event you need to issue an apology, here’s a handy outline:
  • Regret: I am (sorry/sad/disappointed in myself/regretful) that…
  • Responsibility: I (did/said/offended/hurt) you. Hint: Be as specific as possible in naming/describing the offensive behavior.
  • Recognize the harm: I realize that my (words/actions/neglect/failure/omission) had the impact of (hurting/offending/embarrassing/violating/humiliating/damaging) (you/your family/our family/our community etc.). Hint: If you don’t know the impact on your victim, try to imagine; or ask them.
  • Restitution/repair: I intend to make up for this by (paying money/changing behavior/ fixing what I damaged / turning myself into the police)
  • Change future behavior: I will make sure I never do this again by (joining AA/ seeking counseling/engaging an accountability partner/ swearing off Twitter, FB, other social media)
  • Request forgiveness, if appropriate.
  • Check: If your apology contains any of the following words, re-work it so it’s declarative instead of conditional: if/but/maybe/perhaps/might/any.
  • Check: Is anything stated in passive voice? Re-word it so the subject is doing the verb. (Example: Instead of, “mistakes were made,” say, “We made mistakes.”)
  • Check: If your apology includes an explanation for why you did what you did, drop it. Save that until your victim asks you what on earth you were thinking.



Mediation Fees are Taxable Cost

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that mediation fees may be a taxable cost of a lawsuit. In a published decision (meaning the case sets precedent state-wide), the Court determined in Patel v Patel, 324 Mich App 631 (2018) that MCR 2.411(D)(4) permits a court to order a party to pay the mediator’s fee. Michigan law permits various items to be taxed as costs to the losing party, including where a Court Rule permits this, which this provision does: “The mediator’s fee is deemed a cost of the action, and the court may make an appropriate order to enforce the payment of the fee.”

While the Court Rule mediator fee provision seems straightforward on its face, it’s always good to have a Court of Appeals decision construing it. Unfortunately, the Court’s opinion doesn’t offer any reason why this wouldn’t be the case; in other words, we don’t know why the appellant was challenging the court order. Did the he think it was unfair? Was it contrary to the retention agreement with the mediator? Was it mentioned in the parties’ mediation agreement? Typically, parties split the mediator’s fee. In this case, two brothers were aligned against one; the fee might have been divided two or three ways, depending on the parties’ agreement. Presumably the mediation did not result in an agreement, as the parties — three brothers who ended up in litigation after a failed business venture–had a bench trial that resulted in a verdict of no cause of action for the plaintiff-appellant — which is why he was ordered to pay the defendants’ portion of the mediation fee.  The Court of Appeals has confirmed that trial courts have that power, under MCR 2.411(D)(4).

Ministry Apologizes

The Christian Community Development Association has a “vision for restored communities” and now it has an opportunity to restore its own community. Its leader of ten years stepped down this past November, amid allegations of mismanagement by several former employees. The board commissioned a “Reconciliation Task Force” to help them assess their past, including “instances where we have fallen short of living out our stated Biblical value of reconciliation.” The result is a “Statement of Repentance” that identifies four key areas where leadership failed.

An organizational apology is a difficult thing to manage. As anyone who has tried to draft a statement by committee knows, it’s tough to get everyone to agree on wording. When it’s done in the midst of controversy or crisis, it’s even harder to speak clearly and meaningfully. I think the CCDA’s Statement of Repentance is well-done, for an organizational apology. It has a sincere tone, like the leaders understand that significant pain has been caused, and significant change needs to occur.  It doesn’t specifically state what the leaders did wrong, which may be appropriate in a public, organizational apology. Hopefully they expressed that in private to the individuals directly affected. It acknowledges the fall-out, including dedicated employees who departed, and pain all around. It identifies goals for the future, without specifically explaining how they intend to achieve them. They posted it on their web-site–they didn’t try to hide it.

This Statement could be a model for other organizations that need to make a public “act of contrition.”


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