The University of Michigan settled a lawsuit in 2004 alleging that Provost Martin Philbert, who was placed on leave Jan. 21 following allegations of sexual misconduct, engaged in inappropriate conduct with a female researcher in his toxicology lab, according to a report from The Detroit News. At the time of the lawsuit, Philbert was an associate professor in the School of Public Health.
Philbert was appointed dean of the School of Public Health in 2010 after serving as an assistant professor and senior associate dean for research. In June 2017, Philbert was approved as provost and began serving in that role in September 2017. As provost, Philbert supervised the University’s Office of Institutional Equity, which investigates sexual misconduct claims.
Thomas Komorowski, a former University research associate, filed the complaint in 2004 after he was laid off by the School of Public Health in December 2003. Komorowski claimed wrongful termination in part due to Philbert’s alleged relationship with the female researcher. The lawsuit alleges the researcher hugged Philbert in the workplace in addition to grabbing his buttocks one night. It also accuses Philbert of offering to show a male colleague a nude photo of the female researcher. Both Philbert and the researcher denied having this relationship with one another.
According to the lawsuit, Komorowski claimed that Philbert and other members of the lab planned to fire him in order to rehire the female researcher, who left the lab in 2001.
Lawyers for the University denied these claims, saying Komorowski ran out of grant funding for his research and lacked experience to work in the lab. The University settled the lawsuit for an unknown amount in 2005.
In response to these new allegations of misconduct, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said the University’s Office of Public Affairs was unable to provide extensive comment about the ongoing investigation.
“We want to be sure the outside investigators are able to conduct a thorough and fair investigation,” he said.
Fitzgerald did, however, explain that Komorowski’s 2004 lawsuit is open and available to the public in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act.
“Regarding the settlement agreement, it is standard practice for the university to release such agreements through the FOIA process,” Fitzgerald said. “In many cases, the settlement agreements themselves require the university to release the agreements only through the FOIA process.”
In a Jan. 28 interview with The Daily, University President Mark Schlissel said University officials only became aware of allegations against Philbert on Jan. 16, about five days before Philbert was placed on leave.
“The 16th and the 17th was the first I became aware of any allegation whatsoever,” Schlissel said. “We, because of the high rank of the person and the fact that we all know each other very well and work together very closely, the general counsel decided it was wisest to immediately bring in an outside law firm to help us investigate.”