The investigation concluded in February without substantiating claims of harassment, but found there were issues with the way Thomas treated employees.
The report’s summary of findings states, “President Thomas’ leadership style as it relates to the complainants may be characterized as rude, belittling and bullying, but does not rise to the level of harassment.
Five women, who are either current or former employees of Central State, have accused Thomas of harassment and discrimination against them in employment decisions. The five women wrote a letter to the board in August laying out their allegations. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost hired the Cincinnati law firm Taft, Stettinius and Hollister to conduct the investigation.
“We appreciate Dr. Thomas’ vision, drive, and accomplishments. The Board, however, expects University employees to conduct themselves at all times with civility and mutual respect for fellow employees,” said Board Chair Mark Hatcher when the investigation came out. “We have discussed the results of this investigation with Dr. Thomas and we mutually agreed that he immediately undergo executive leadership and effective communication coaching.”
But the five women - Isabelle Cayo-Sanders, Lena Fields-Arnold, Felicia Harris-Nagel, Wendy Hayes, and Ieesha Ramsey – said in a statement provided through their attorney they are disappointed in the investigation and question its integrity.
“From the onset, it was discovered that there was a connection between the lead investigator from the firm paid by CSU to conduct the investigation and the CSU Board of Trustees’ (BOT) chairman,” the women said.
The group’s attorney, David Duwel, said his clients learned Columbus-based attorney Janica Pierce Tucker, who was hired by the Taft firm to conduct the investigation, is friends and has worked together in the past with CSU board president Hatcher, who is also a lawyer in Columbus.
Taft Law Firm spokeswoman Susan Killkenny said there was no conflict of interest in the investigation.
“All aspects of the investigation were handled in an appropriate and ethical manner,” she said.
The five women said they shared their worries at the start of the investigation. They say he has shown a pattern of the behavior he exhibited, and say he was accused of similar issues when he was at Western Illinois University. Thomas was previously president at Western Illinois University, but was placed on administrative leave in 2019, according to documents from Western Illinois University. He officially resigned from Western Illinois in 2021, when he was already president at Central State — a job he undertook in July 2020.
The five women said they hope the Board of Trustees will not renew Thomas’s contract, which ends on June 30.
“We feel betrayed by the institution we love, and the Board of Trustees appointed to ensure the leadership of the institution is beyond reproach,” the five women said. “Dr. Thomas is a seasoned president with 3-degrees in English and 30-plus years of experience in higher education. If he still requires communication training and coaching, he should not be the President of any higher education institution. "
CSU has paid $17,215.50 toward the investigation, according to Central State documents. CSU attorney Laura Wilson said two bills, one from Dec. 31 and the other from Feb. 9, had not reached their office yet, but Central State will be responsible for the $11,866.26 remaining.
Josh Sweigart contributed to this story.