Globe-MSB attorney scrutinizes whistleblower’s account

A different picture of the former dean (MPR Photo / Tim Post)

Today Globe University / Minnesota School of Business attorney Matthew Damon continued his cross-examination of Heidi Weber, the former medical-assistant network dean who has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the school.

Over the past couple of days, Weber has recounted her time at Globe — including the practices she saw that she considers unethical, and her concerns over the quality of the education at the school.

She spent a lot of time describing how Globe had failed to tell students about its plans to switch to a less rigorous accrediting agency — plans she says she opposed. She also said it failed to notify students in a timely manner that felony criminal convictions could prevent them from getting hired. And she says Globe failed to provide students with required externships — yet continued to enroll them — and inflated job-placement data.

She says she warned Globe executives repeatedly about her concerns, but that they ignored her reports. She says they eventually fired her for speaking out.

Attorneys from both sides are under a gag order, so they can’t comment on the case.

But Damon, Globe’s attorney, seemed to focus his cross-examination on several main areas:

Globe’s warnings about the impact of criminal convictions on students. Damon showed excerpts of Globe publications available to students — such as the student handbook — that discussed the potential impact of felony convictions. Weber said students received those only after enrolling. But Damon said the enrollment agreement was nonbinding. He suggested students could have read the materials, and if they’d realized their criminal convictions prevented them from practicing in the field, pulled out of the program and received a refund of their application fee.

“You don’t have to go to college,” he said. “You can look at the student handbook and decide not to go.”

Weber’s credibility. Damon questioned her performance in the company. He asked Weber whether she remembered being late to several meetings or conference calls, having an argument in public with a Globe colleague, or missing a class she was supposed to help teach. Weber said she recalled none of those situations, and had no reprimands or reports about those in her file.

Damon presented emails suggesting Globe executives were dissatisfied with how Weber was handling a decision by Allina Health to stop offering externships to Globe medical-assistant students.

At the time of the emails, Globe was attempting to repair its relationship with Allina. Globe Chief Operating Officer Jeanne Herrmann wrote in one email to Weber and Karan Krna, who was chief compliance officer at the time, that the lack of externships represented “a crisis situation. … We have let this go on way too long. Our students are suffering, and this is unacceptable.”

Herrmann also wrote in an email to Krna that Weber had not been communicating properly with her colleagues on the matter.

“I’m at the end of my rope with her!” she wrote.

In Damon’s questioning and discussion of company emails, he appeared to suggest that Weber was involved in the very actions and decisions that she has been criticizing.

Weber has testified that she opposed the accreditation move and had issues with the quality of Globe’s program. But excerpts from several documents and correspondence Damon presented suggest that Weber thought Globe had a high-quality program, that she supported the change to a new accrediting agency, and that she tried to convince others that the change was a good one.

In one piece of correspondence, Weber wrote, “I’m glad that you were able to (convince Allina) that we are a solid school and program.” In another, Damon’s questioning suggests, Weber appears to be stressing the qualifications of Globe’s instructors.

When jurors examine those emails they’ll have to consider whether Weber opposed Globe’s practices but obeyed orders to stay employed — “I did what I was told” she said at one point — or fully supported Globe and only later complained when she started having problems at work.

At times Damon and Weber differed in how they interpreted documents and comments made in Globe’s emails. And they sometimes sparred over whether documents or correspondence showed Weber had a hand in the crisis over externships.

Lack of harm. Although Weber says she received hundreds of calls about various problems, Damon pressed her about what he considered a lack of documentation of deception. She could not give him the names of students who suffered from Globe’s practices — such as those who couldn’t get jobs or externships. Weber responded that she knew of student problems from company reports and day-to-day conversations. Damon also said that data such as job-placement rates — which Weber says the school distorted — never made it into the school’s advertising campaigns, presentations or website.

He also questioned the methodology she used to assess things such as the industry standard regarding when schools should make criminal background checks of its students.

Lack of regulations. Damon pressed Weber on what state and federal laws governed when Globe must conduct criminal background checks of students. He said no such laws existed. He also differed with Weber on how to interpret accrediting agency regulations, and suggested they prevented Globe from informing students that they were switching to the new accreditor.

Attorneys say the trial could extend into Tuesday.