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UCM sued for wrongful termination, trial sought

For the Muleskinner

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — A former university staff member is suing the University of Central Missouri for wrongful termination of his employment as warehouse clerk.

Terry Neal, of Warrensburg, is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages, including lost income and benefits as well as legal fees. Named in the suit filed April 19 is UCM and Chris Bamman, director of UCM Facilities, Planning and Operations.

Around Sept. 9, 2015, Bamman recommended terminating Neal because of events that occurred around Aug. 13, 2015, according to court records filed with the 17th Judicial Circuit Court in Johnson County. In the lawsuit, Neal said he hadn’t received a disciplinary write-up before his termination.

Neal said he saw workers removing furniture from Room 19 in the Administration Building around Aug. 13, 2015, without wearing personal protective equipment, according to court records. Neal said he knew Room 19 had been closed down for years due to contamination from asbestos, so he informed one of the workers that they should wear protective equipment.

As president of the Missouri Education Workers, Local 1, the union that represents the university’s staff, Neal is required to observe the safety of all UCM staff, according to court records.

Neal said he also reported the incident to Wally Dzula, a life safety technician at UCM, who reported it to Lori Dake, manager of environmental, health and safety at UCM, according to court records. Neal said Bamman terminated his employment around Sept. 21, 2015, claiming the reason was for contacting the workers about the use of personal protective equipment and failing to report his concerns to superiors.

UCM responded to Neal’s lawsuit by filing an answer to the petition for damages May 25. The university said Neal’s employment was terminated for “failing to perform the requirements of his job as well as multiple, material violations of the collective bargaining memorandum of understand between UCM and Local Union 1290PE.”

In the lawsuit, Neal cited another asbestos-related incident from around March 18, 2014. He reported that workers were moving furnishings that were potentially contaminated with hazardous, friable asbestos on the second, third and fourth floors of Hudson Hall while students were in classrooms in and near the hall, according to court records. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration defines friable asbestos as material that can be crumbled by hand pressure and is therefore likely to emit fibers. Neal claimed the workers were also not wearing any personal protective equipment while moving the contaminated furnishings.

Upon receiving the report of the incident in Hudson Hall, Dake confirmed around March 18, 2014, that friable asbestos exists in many of the old rooms of Hudson Hall, according to the lawsuit. UCM denied that Dake confirmed the existence of friable asbestos, according to the university’s response.

Although UCM’s policies require personal protective equipment to be worn when handling contaminated or hazardous materials such as mold or asbestos, the FPO warehouse doesn’t stock or contain such equipment, according to the lawsuit.

The university denies that Neal is entitled to “any relief whatsoever” and “respectfully requests that the court dismiss plaintiff’s petition for damages,” according to the university’s response.

Editor’s Note: This version of the story has been updated to reflect that Terry Neal no longer works at the Central Missouri Police Academy. 

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