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Judge rejects Globe University's appeal in whistleblower case

STILLWATER, Minn. -- A Washington County District Court judge ruled last month that Globe University must pay more than $500,000 in attorneys’ fees and related costs to a former dean who brought a whistleblower lawsuit against the school last year.

Judge Tad Jude also denied the Woodbury-based school a motion for a new trial involving the same dean, who sued the school alleging violation of state whistleblower laws, according to court documents.

Heidi Weber was already awarded nearly $400,000 in damages by a jury when the case went to trial last August.

The school had argued that the jury’s award included punitive damages, but Jude noted the seven-member jury was well-informed that the case wasn’t a punitive damages case.

The $395,000 award was “within the compensatory damages sought by the plaintiff, and does not reflect an indication of a punitive damages supplement,” he wrote in his order.

Globe attorney Matthew Damon planned to request a new trial as soon as the jury was excused for deliberation.

He referenced closing arguments by Weber’s attorney, Clay Halunen, as well as arguments throughout the seven-day trial that he said were irrelevant to the allegations and didn’t have evidence to support them.

According to court documents, Halunen repeatedly made inflammatory and inappropriate arguments that encouraged the jury to punish Globe.

During closing arguments, Halunen told the jurors they had the ability to impact the for-profit schools industry as a whole, though they had not received evidence on that issue, court documents state.

Damon stated that testimony by a former dean, who was also terminated by the school, may have been biased. He also cited the court’s failure to give jurors proper instructions before deliberations as grounds to request a new trial.

Jude concluded the trial didn’t include prejudicial error and denied the motion Feb. 13.

Weber filed the lawsuit in 2011, alleging the school retaliated against her, and violated the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, for making good faith reports.

Weber was first hired as an instructor at the Sioux Falls, S.D., campus before being promoted to dean of Globe’s medical assistant program, overseeing the whole network out of the Woodbury campus.

Weber alleged that Globe falsely advertises job placement rates, recruits students with “sales representatives,” not admission counselors, and sells “dreams” to students even if they don’t have the aptitude to complete the programs or land top-paying jobs.

Globe University officials said in a statement that they continue to stand by what they argued during the trial and are considering an appeal.

“We were hopeful the judge would correct the mistakes made in the original jury decision,” Globe University spokeswoman Naomi McDonald said. “We remain convinced Mrs. Weber is not a whistleblower under Minnesota law and are considering our option for appeal.”

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.