President of Dixie Technical College reinstated with raise, $100,000 settlement after lawsuit

Kelle Stephens, president of Dixie Technical College, speaks to St. George News outside of the construction of the new campus, St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2016 | File photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Kelle Stephens was reinstated Thursday as president of Dixie Technical College, one week after she filed a lawsuit alleging a lack of due process in the decision to fire her five months ago.

The campus of Dixie Technical College is set atop Tech Ridge, St. George, Utah, March 28, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Stephens, who was fired as president of the school in January, was reinstated by a 12-1 vote by the board of trustees for the Utah System of Technical Colleges, effective July 1. In exchange for Stephens dropping all her legal claims against the organization, she will also receive a $100,000 settlement and a salary raise of approximately $14,000.

The decision came during a special board meeting via conference call. The specific reason Stephens was reinstated by the board of trustees was not shared during the 10-minute meeting, but it took place exactly one week after Stephens filed a lawsuit on May 31 against the Utah System of Technical Colleges and its commissioner Dave Woolstenhulme.

What the lawsuit says

Stephens’ lawsuit alleges Woolstenhulme “intentionally” and “deceitfully” defamed her and misrepresented her to the board of trustees, which the lawsuit claims is what led her to be fired. It also alleges Stephens was fired without the board of trustees allowing her due process to defend herself before she was fired.

Details on a months-long feud between Woolstenhulme and Stephens were included in her lawsuit, including other happenings that led up to the board of trustees’ decision to fire her.

The lawsuit mentions an anonymous letter and audio recordings of Stephens from a closed meeting with her executive team that was sent to Woolstenhulme in December 2016. The contents of the letter and recordings has not been publicly released, but Stephens’ lawsuit claims the letter was “defamatory” and the recording was “private” and “taken out of context.”

Kelle Stephens, president of Dixie Technical College, stands outside of Dixie Technical College, St. George, Utah, Nov. 10, 2016 | File photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

The letter and recordings were subsequently sent to the board of trustees and several state legislators, according to Stephens’ lawsuit. Because of what was contained in the letter and recordings, Woolstenhulme decided to put Stephens on probation in January 2017, which lasted until June 2017, according to the lawsuit.

Stephens’ lawsuit also claims Woolstenhulme incorrectly assumed and perpetuated the idea Stephens committed the board of trustees to a $1 million increase in the bond to build Dixie Tech’s new campus before the increase was actually approved. Without consulting with Stephens, Woolstenhulme placed a stop-work order on the building project of the campus in February 2017 because of this assumption, which cost the school $126,000, according to the lawsuit.

After Woolstenhulme held 18 closed meetings over 12 months with the board of trustees, the decision was made to fire Stephens in January, according to the lawsuit. Stephens was given only 30 minutes at one of the meetings to defend herself, according to the lawsuit.

“During this entire process, president Stephens was effectively excluded from the process until the day of her termination, and then was given only 30 minutes, and when she ran over the limit, the trustees complained about her not being considerate of their time,” Stephens’ lawsuit alleges.

As a result of the anonymous letter, recordings, rumors that were spread, Woolstenhulme’s actions and Stephens getting fired, her character and reputation were “assassinated” and “permanently destroyed with city, county and state government,” according to her lawsuit. Stress from the situation allegedly caused Stephens to suffer from “severe anxiety and feelings of helplessness.”

Reinstating Stephens

After the board of trustees voted to reinstate Stephens to her role as president Thursday, Stephens said she “would just like to say thank you.” Stephens officially dropped her lawsuit against Woolstenhulme and Utah System of Technical Colleges on Friday.

Derek Hadlock, acting president of Dixie Technical College, cuts the ribbon celebrating the trade school’s new campus, St. George, Utah, March 28, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“I love Dixie Technical College,” Stephens said. “I love the staff and the students and the faculty.”

Stephen Wade, a member of the board of trustees and president of Wade Automotive Group, said at the meeting this outcome is one that nobody expected.

“A lot of turmoil has been involved here for a lot of people,” Wade said.

The only vote against reinstating Stephens came from Scott Theurer, a dentist in Logan representing Bridgerland Technical College for the board of trustees.

The specific reason Stephens is being reinstated to her job was not shared at the meeting, nor is it something the Utah System of Technical Colleges will comment on, assistant commissioner Joseph Demma said.

Asked if he supported the decision to reinstate Stephens, Demma simply said: “It’s a decision made by the board of trustees, and I support the board of trustees, of course.”

The previous search for a new president of Dixie Tech after Derek Hadlock had been serving as the acting president will be suspended and the candidates will be notified, board of trustees chairman Jim Evans said.

Attempts by St. George News to reach Stephens or Woolstenhulme were unsuccessful. Daniel Wilde, Stephens’ attorney, did not immediately respond to St. George News’ requests for comment. And Steven Densley, assistant Utah attorney general and legal representative for Woolstenhulme and Utah System of Technical Colleges declined to comment on the case because of confidentiality agreements.

Are you an employee or former employee of Dixie Technical College with a story to share about president Kelle Stephens or the Dixie Technical College administration? Contact reporter Spencer Ricks at [email protected].

Email: [email protected]

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • Kilroywashere June 8, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    I’m not trying to be a prophet, but I do see an article coming out this upcoming Sunday morning in a local media outlet by a writer named after a city in Texas with a pro football team. Although he may be on vacation, and I could be dead wrong, based upon all that has occurred in the last couple of years, it is time for a new President. R.E.S.I G.N. It is for the best of the entire community that a new slate is drawn and the old is gone, to rebuild anew. Go find another school. The amount of controversy surrounding Dixie State is almost equivalent to Evergreen. Truly, there are times when it is best to move on for the sake of students, faculty, alumni, as well as the financial Integrity of the institution itself. What more does it take, for the board of Trustees to realize that a new untarnished leader is the best thing for Dixie State. Sometimes it is as simple as getting a fresh start. Good luck

    • johncmiller June 9, 2018 at 7:01 pm

      This article has nothing to do with Dixie State. This is the Dixie Technical College. It’s seperate from Dixie State. However, I agree that Dixie State needs a new president ASAP!

  • comments June 9, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, right?

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