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Former Chancellor Wisniewska Files Suit Against USF, Genshaft

May 1, 2019

Former University of South Florida St. Petersburg Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska, who stepped down in the wake of controversy following Hurricane Irma two years ago, has filed a lawsuit against USF and System President Judy Genshaft.

Wisniewska filed a suit in Hillsborough County Circuit Court last Friday alleging breach of contract against both Genshaft and the school, as well as defamation and infliction of emotional distress against the USF President.

In September 2017, Wisniewska reached an agreement to voluntarily resign days after issues arose during the evacuation of her campus before Hurricane Irma. She had also left the state for Atlanta without informing USF officials first.

Genshaft had originally planned to fire Wisniewska, but an agreement under which Wisniewska voluntarily resigned was reached instead.

The suit alleges that Genshaft “willfully and maliciously distributed” a draft of an unsent letter firing Wisniewska to the Tampa Bay Times. In that letter, Genshaft accused Wisniewska of a "lack of leadership" that "created an intolerable safety risk to (USF) students.”

Wisniewska’s suit disputes those claims, saying “even after (Wisniewska) evacuated the state, she retained her presence through phones and emails until the storm weakened,” and “due to (Wisniewska’s) competency and leadership during the storm, all students remained safe and USFSP suffered no damages.”

Wisniewska claims the letter, which was published by the paper and shared with other media outlets, including WUSF, contained false and malicious claims, which has led to her being unable to find work.

The suit, which asks for a jury trial, seeks damages of more than $15,000, plus court costs.

USF spokesman Adam Freeman told the Times that school leaders “strongly disagree” with the claims of the lawsuit, adding that Wisniewska waived her right to legal actions against the university in the resignation agreement.

“We look forward to defending the decisions made around the time of her separation from USF,” Freeman said, adding that the university will make no further comments on the pending litigation.

Wisniewska served as USF St. Petersburg’s Regional Chancellor from July 2013 through September 2017.