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Secretary sues over scholars’ fracas at USF

St. Petersburg Time

TAMPA – A secretary at the University of South Florida who says she was injured during a faculty fracas just before Christmas filed a civil suit Thursday against one of the professors involved.Jay Wolfson, a USF professor and member of the Hillsborough County Hospital Authority, threatened secretary Yolanda Santos, grabbed her and jumped on her back – all in a struggle over Santos’ personal tape recorder, the suit charges.

“This is something one would expect to read about in grade school,” said Santos’ attorney, Steve Yerrid. “It’s ironic in a place of higher learning that the very basics we learn as children were cast aside.”

“We’re comfortable that Dr. Wolfson did nothing inappropriate that day,” said Tracy Sheehan, one of the lawyers representing him.

Santos’ story is nothing but “a fabrication” designed to fuel a bitter faculty turf war at USF, she said.

The suit claims that Wolfson’s actions amounted to assault and battery, false imprisonment and negligence and asks for $300,000 in punitive damages.

State prosecutors and USF officials are still investigating the Dec. 17 incident, which occurred at a faculty meeting in the Department of Health Policy and Management in the College of Public Health.

Details of the incident have been sketchy.

Department chairman James Studnicki, who along with Santos filed a criminal complaint, has declined to speak with reporters about it. Wolfson and interim public health dean John Skinner, who were both at the meeting, have said there was a lot of yelling that day, but nothing violent.

Santos’ lawsuit offers different version of events. The meeting, which Santos was there to record, began with an argument between Studnicki and Wolfson. When Studnicki tried to adjourn the meeting and asked Santos to leave with him, Wolfson grabbed her by the arm and thrust her back into her chair, the suit says. Santos said she was frightened by Wolfson’s yelling and threats.

A few moments later, Studnicki again asked Santos to leave the room and to take her tape recorder with her. When Santos reached for the recorder, Wolfson “jumped on her back and reached over her in an effort of wrestle the records from her possession,” the suit says. “As a result of (Wolfson’s) unexpected attack, (Santos) was violently pushed headfirst into the chair upon which the recorder had been resting and as a result sustained personal injuries.”

The Provost Office has asked three professors to decide whether faculty rules were broken.

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