Court rules against ex-Fort Wayne university head in lawsuit

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled against a former chancellor of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne who argued a businessman defamed him in a letter shortly before he was forced to retire.

The state appeals court ruled Monday that a trial court appropriately dismissed Michael Wartell's case, The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette ( ) reports. Officials at Purdue, which oversees the Fort Wayne campus, forced Wartell to retire at age 65 in 2012 under a little-used retirement age policy for high-level administrators.

Wartell filed a lawsuit against businessman Larry Lee for writing to then-Purdue President France Cordova before Wartell's outser. In the letter, Lee said that Wartell's "word (does) not always serve as his bond" and that he had a "lack of integrity."

An Allen County judge had ruled the statements in Lee's letter weren't defamatory. The appeals court, which heard oral arguments in the case in October, ruled Lee's statements "are vague and not objectively verifiable without referring to extrinsic evidence."

"Lee mentioned no specific incidents of misconduct but rather made general statements about Wartell's character and conduct in his role as chancellor," the court's ruling said. "Although Lee's statements in his letter to Cordova were arguably defamatory, the vagueness with which they are stated prevents them from imputing misconduct and rising to the level of defamation."

The appeals court's decision can be appealed by Wartell to the state Supreme Court.

Wartell had led the Fort Wayne campus for 18 years, and had asked to be allowed to remain chancellor until the school's 50th anniversary in the 2014-15 academic year. But his request was turned down.

Purdue paid Wartell $52,000 to settle his federal age discrimination lawsuit against the university.


Information from: The Journal Gazette,

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