Tarrant County College launched an independent investigation into Chancellor Eugene Giovannini following a lawsuit that claims he retaliated against a former administrator over disciplining an employee with whom he was having an affair.

Teresa Ayala, the president of the TCC board of trustees, on Feb. 11 announced the third-party inquiry into Giovannini, who has led the college since 2016.

Typically, TCC does not comment on any litigation, but Ayala said a lawsuit from Kristen Bennett, the college’s former executive vice president of advancement, made serious allegations against the chancellor.

“That investigation is ongoing, and (the TCC District) is committed to determine the truth in a manner that is fair to all parties involved,” Ayala said. “At the appropriate time, (the TCC District) will respond to the lawsuit in a court of law.”

Bennett — who led the TCC Foundation, the nonprofit that has a tense relationship with the district — filed the lawsuit on Feb. 7. The lawsuit alleges that the district ignored her right to due process, First Amendment rights and violated the Texas Equal Rights Amendment, Title VII and Title IX.

The Fort Worth Report on Feb. 11 also obtained a letter Frank Hill, Bennett’s attorney, wrote to the TCC board of trustees and Carol Bracken, the district’s associate general counsel. He questioned Bracken on whether the investigation Ayala announced is new or an ongoing inquiry.

Bennett’s lawsuit identifies two investigations. One was an independent third-party investigation into her grievance, and the other was one into an employee who allegedly had a relationship with the chancellor, according to the lawsuit.  

Hill called on TCC to reinstate Bennett to her position immediately because, he said, neither the district nor the board of trustees has heard her grievance despite Texas law and the college’s policies outlining a process. 

“She has been terminated, after having been banned from the campus, banned from her email, barred from retrieving her personal property (yet to this date), and humiliated, all without a hearing,” Hill wrote. “Because I anticipate that you will refuse our respectful demand that you reinstate Dr. Bennett, I will add this respectful demand: if you do not permit her to retrieve her personal property immediately, we are going to approach the court for an order compelling you to do so.”

Hill’s letter also told the board of trustees that his office had received information from a TCC employee about a new allegation against the chancellor. Hill said he shared this new complaint with the Dallas law firm already hired to conduct an investigation.

“In the off chance that you are unaware of that additional report, we wanted to be sure, through this letter, to bring it to your attention so that it will certainly be included in this new investigation (or any of the other two investigations if you like),” Hill wrote in the letter.

The lawsuit says Giovannini allegedly targeted Bennett after she disciplined his girlfriend, who worked for the then-executive vice president, for her workplace behavior. The chancellor did not renew Bennett’s contract and put her on a personal improvement plan without letting TCC’s human resources department know.

The pressure Giovannini placed on Bennett forced her to resign, which she later retracted. She officially left TCC on Jan. 31.

“Having realized that she was trapped in the web of the relationship between Giovannini and the female employee in question and seeing utterly no way to get out of that trap without being fired by Giovannini (with the accompanying damage to her professional career), she thought it best to resign,” the lawsuit reads.

Bennett was brought in to lead the TCC Foundation in 2020. Her lawsuit says Giovannini handpicked her to replace the nonprofit’s longtime executive director, Joe McIntosh, who led the foundation for 14 years.

The chancellor switched foundation leadership after a confidential audit warned an abrupt change would strain an already small staff and hinder fundraising, the Fort Worth Report learned through an open records request.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob SanchezEnterprise Reporter

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University....

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