A lawsuit filed by the Rocky Mountain College development director portrays RMC president Michael Mace as a violent, threatening boss who drove away employees and potential donors to the private college.
Shari VanDelinder filed the civil law suit in District Court on Monday against Mace and the college.
The suit includes five complaints, two of which —assault and infliction of emotional distress — are against Mace.
The other two are against the college for failure to provide a safe place to work and negligent supervision of Mace.
The fifth is against both Mace and the college for punitive damages.
Reached by phone, Mace said that the suit is “a personnel matter, and there’s no comment.”
Board of Trustees chairman Barbara Skelton said Monday afternoon that she had not seen the court document yet.
“I can’t make a comment until I do,” she said.
In a later e-mail, Skelton said that VanDelinder’s concerns were taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by trustees.
“The board offered a fair resolution and is disappointed she did not avail herself of that remedy,” Skelton wrote without further explanation.
Skelton did write that "the Board of Trustees hopes to move forward with the mission of the College under the leadership of President Mike Mace."
Contacted Monday, VanDelinder said she was advised by her attorney not to comment on the case.
VanDelinder is seeking unspecified compensatory, punitive damages and other costs related to the suit.
The abuse began not long after VanDelinder became development director in August 2007, the suit claims. Before that, she was special events coordinator, who had organized the Black Tie and Blue Jean event, which brought in record amounts of money for the college.
She continued to work on the event as part of her fundraising job.
After a successful 2007 Black Tie Blue Jeans, Mace screamed at her about too much attention being paid to one benefactor and not enough of another, according to the suit.
When VanDelinder explained that the person receiving the most attention had given the most money, “Mace got madder and screamed more,” the suit said.
When VanDelinder printed out donation histories of the two sponsors and gave it to Mace, “he ripped them up and threw them away,” court documents said.
Mace later apologized to VanDelinder.
In 2008, Mace called VanDelinder into his office and started screaming at her as he walked toward her, the suit alleged. She backed up against a door as he continued to scream.
“Mace hovered in, his nose only a few inches from her face, still yelling and then he started ramming his index finger into the door next to VanDelinder’s ears, first on one side then on the other,” according to the suit.
VanDelinder escaped through the door into the kitchen.
Mace undermined many of VanDelinder’s money-raising projects, the suit alleged.
“He instructed her not to speak to certain donors, failed to make phone calls to prospective donors, went into tirades in front of donors and maligned VanDelinder to her face and to others,” according to the suit.
After unsuccessfully trying to get Mace’s behavior to change by talking to him, VanDelinder talked with Skelton and Rocky human resource officials.
VanDelinder’s treatment by Mace led to her having headaches, insomnia, canker sores and panic attacks, the suit said.
After being treated in a hospital emergency room for a severe headache in late February, VanDelinder took a family leave from her job. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome as the result of Mace’s behavior because it reminded VanDelinder of treatment she received in her first marriage, the suit said.
She remains on medical leave, but still is employed by the college.
On March 11, Skelton questioned VanDelinder about her complaints against Mace. On March 23, Skelton found that Mace had not discriminated against women nor had singled out VanDelinder for poor treatment, but that VanDelinder should have the chance to be managed by someone else than Mace.
Because VanDelinder had been managed by others before but that had not protected her from Mace, she didn’t expect a new manager would either.
Skelton told VanDelinder to report to her or the human resources office if VanDelinder had more problems with Mace.
The suit alleged that trustees disregarded the college’s conflict-of-interest policies for trustees when Skelton was allowed to handle VanDelinder’s grievance.
Skelton not only is chairwoman of Rocky board, she provides the college with facilities for its equestrian program for more than $270,000, the largest amount paid by Rocky to any independent contractor.
Mace Holdings LLP, a real estate holding company of which Michael Mace is president and CEO, also rents office space in Billings from Coal Black Cattle Co., which is managed by Skelton.
As of March 1, Mace was two months behind in his rent for that property, the suit said.
Skelton also served on the board of trustees, when Mace, also then a trustee, was chosen to be interim president of Rocky when the previous president was ousted in late 2005.
Mace offered to serve in the temporary post for $1 a year.
Skelton moved to accept Mace’s offer and volunteered to lead the search for a new president.
The suit alleged that the search never was started and that Mace was named president six months later with “a real salary.” His salary now is $150,000.
According to the suit, Rocky trustees knew about Mace’s violence and outbursts and had a legal obligation under state law to provide a safe place for employees to work.
The lawsuit also noted Mace’s 2007 arrest in Indiana on misdemeanor battery charges and that he spent one night in jail after being charged with physically assaulting a contractor. The lawsuit said that Mace later pleaded guilty.
He agreed to pay court costs, see a counselor for anger management and do community service. After Mace completed those requirements, the charges were dismissed, but not erased from his record.
Rusty Harper, Rocky’s vice president of development flew to Indiana to bail Mace out of jail, the suit said. A month later, Harper resigned, becoming one of 19 administrators to leave Rocky in 4-1/2 years.