UNC paying $335K to settle whistleblower lawsuit

Tuesday March 17th, 2015

The University of North Carolina will pay former learning specialist Mary Willingham $335,000 to settle her claim after she sued the school claiming that she was retaliated against and received a demotion for telling about the academic fraud involving some of the school’s athletes.

The Raleigh News & Observer was given a copy of the settlement, which showed the case was settled and closed.

After legal fees, Willingham will receive about three years of salary. She made about $60,000 a year when she was employed by the school. She resigned from her position last year and sought to get her job back but that was not part of the final settlement. 

“It gets me out far enough that I will be able to get a job,” Willingham said.

“We believe the settlement is in the best interest of the university and allows us to move forward and fully focus on other important issues,” UNC spokesman Rick White said in a statement.

• ​PRICE: How did Carolina lose its way?

Willingham sued North Carolina last year, saying that the school created a hostile work environment for her after she blew the whistle on academic fraud. She provided research showing that majority of the 180 athletes that were tested read below a high school level.

Willingham told the Raleigh News & Observer that workers in the school’s tutoring program were steering athletes to take paper classes so they could remain eligible to compete.

At least four people were fired as result of the scandal after a U.S. Justice Department report showed that about 3,100 athletes and other students earned artificially high grades for nearly two decades.

The school and the NCAA were sued by two former North Carolina players, football player Devon Ramsay and women's basketball player Rashanda McCants, but the NCAA said that they were not legally responsible for any academic fraud that may have occurred.

- Scooby Axson

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