Thursday’s 6-0 vote by Tarrant County College’s trustees begins the process of terminating Chancellor Eugene Giovannini, the campus leader currently under investigation for ordering the firing of TCC fundraising executive Kristen Bennett.
Bennett is currently suing the college for wrongful termination. During the vote, one board member said the decision was made due to early information from the independent investigation of Bennett’s firing. TCC’s board of trustees named Giovannini in 2016. He served 11 years as president of Gateway Community College in Phoenix before being named TCC’s top administrator.
In court documents tied to the lawsuit, Bennett alleges that Giovannini, who earns $432,836 per year, retaliated against her after she counseled a female co-worker for exhibiting poor workplace behavior.
“From the date of her hiring on October 1, 2020, until July 13, 2021, Bennett received nothing but praise from Chancellor Giovannini,” one filing reads.
According to the lawsuit filings, Bennett didn’t know at the time that the female employee she counseled was allegedly having an “intimate and inappropriate” relationship with Giovannini. TCC employee guidelines prohibit relationships of an “amorous or sexual” nature between administrators and subordinates.
Bennett says she told the female employee to avoid interpersonal altercations with co-workers and that exchange allegedly led Giovannini to target Bennett.
“On August 30, 2021, Giovannini called Bennett into his office,” another part of the court filing reads. “He informed her that he would not be renewing her employment contract, which ended the next day. Giovannini told Bennett that he had ‘issues’ with her, although he did not say what they were. He said he was going to place her on an Executive Development Plan, similar to what is commonly known in the district as a ‘PIP,’ ” or Performance Improvement Plan.
Bennett alleges Giovannini grew increasingly hostile toward her. In October, the lawsuit filings say, an unnamed TCC attorney asked Bennett if Giovannini was having an affair with his subordinate employee. Bennett described several observations that suggested there was an ongoing affair. In December, Bennett filed a grievance against Giovannini. The lawsuit filings say human resources staffer Osvaldo Gomez emailed Bennet and promised to follow up — something that allegedly never happened. Instead, Bennett was placed on administrative leave. On January 31, the lawsuit filings say TCC leaders, allegedly acting on Giovannini’s orders, fired Bennett without due process.
“The cesspool of events described above are the direct product of the breach of trust owed by Giovannini to the district and its employees and to the taxpaying public,” the lawsuit alleges. TCC “has a recent and long history of wrongfully denying procedural due process to employees who have been wrongfully terminated without that due process. Malfeasance has cost [TCC] many thousands of dollars already.”
Bennett’s lawsuit is the second in two years to be filed against TCC due to the actions of Giovannini. In a 2021 court proceeding in which plaintiffs similarly argued that the chancellor fired a TCC employee without due process, attorney Frank Hill made the case that former TCC professor Jeff McDonald was terminated in violation of TCC’s guidelines that should have afforded McDonald a hearing before the college’s board of trustees. Hill’s early line of questioning at district court downtown sought to undermine Giovannini’s credibility by highlighting his lack of knowledge on a range of important topics that a college chancellor should reasonably know.
Hill: Have you read the pleadings in this case?
Hill: Do you have an understanding of the issues [in this case]?
Hill: Are you familiar generally with the employment policies of your district?
Hill: In preparation for this deposition today, have you reviewed any documents?
Hill: Was [McDonald] a tenured teacher at the college?
Giovannini: I don’t know
Hill: Does [tenure] mean that the employment is not just one year at a time but a continuing thing?
Giovannini: Just tenure in and of itself? No
Hill: This man is a chancellor, and he doesn’t know what tenure is. If Mr. McDonald was given notice that he was being non-renewed, as you understand the college policy, was he entitled to a hearing before the board?
Giovannini: I don’t know.
Giovannini said in court that he followed the advice of his attorneys on matters related to employee terminations. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount.
“The district has a long-standing system problem in failing to give basic due process, and it has already cost the district substantial sums of money,” Hill told me. “I lay the primary blame of that at the feet of Giovannini.”