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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Former state lawmaker settles lawsuit against Central Washington University for $155,000

Washington House Republicans -
In this file photo, former state Rep. Matt Manweller speaks on the floor of the Washington state House.

Former Washington state Rep. Matt Manweller has settled a wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer, Central Washington University (CWU), for $155,000. Manweller had initially sought more than $2 million in damages.

CWU fired Manweller last August from his position as a tenured professor of political science following a workplace conduct investigation that concluded he had "engaged in a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior" with current and former female students over a 13-year period.

The settlement was filed in Kittitas County Superior Court last week. According to the stipulated judgment and order to pay, CWU did not admit any liability and will not pay Manweller's attorney fees. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning the settlement serves as a final determination in the case. 

In a statement, Kremiere Jackson, the vice president of public affairs at CWU, said the university accepted Manweller's offer to settle the case for $155,000.

"The University's overriding motivation in accepting the settlement offer was to protect the privacy of our students and their supporting witnesses," Jackson said in her statement. "We did not want our students to have to relive their experiences through pre-trial depositions and trial testimony."

As part of the settlement, Jackson also said that Manweller had agreed not to seek employment by the state of Washington "in any capacity at any time in the future." 

In an interview Wednesday, Manweller's attorney Douglas Nicholson, framed the nature of the settlement differently. He said the university originally offered Manweller $50,000 to settle the case. Nicholson said Manweller responded with a "take it or leave it" offer of $155,000, which the university accepted.

Nicholson said Manweller and his family decided to settle because they've moved out of state and wanted to put this chapter in their lives behind them.

"I think we had a case that was getting stronger by the minute," Nicholson said. "But it was for family reasons and the fact that he had moved and he just wanted to get on with his life and move on."

Nicholson reiterated that he felt Manweller had been unfairly treated by CWU. "He was a target, he's been a target and they finally got him," Nicholson said. "In my opinion, Matt let them off the hook at a bargain for personal reasons." 

The university had previously investigated Manweller in 2012 and 2013, but those investigations did not result in substantiated allegations or discipline. In fact, Manweller was later promoted and the university paid his attorney's fees related to those earlier investigations. 

Manweller consistently denied harassing or otherwise engaging with female students in an inappropriate manner. Last year, in response to the CWU investigation, Manweller called the allegations against him "trivial" and said there was nothing in the report for him to apologize for. "The things that are true are not inappropriate and the things that are inappropriate are not true," he said in a video posted to Facebook last August.

However, in a December 2017 interview with the Northwest News Network and The News Tribune, Manweller acknowledged he might have been too casual or friendly or flirtatious with female students. "I might have been," he said at the time. "It wasn't my intent to ever cross any line, but clearly somebody's feelings were hurt and I must bear some responsibility for that." 

Despite the allegations against him, Manweller, a Republican, was overwhelmingly re-elected to the Washington House last November. However, he had previously said if re-elected would resign his position which he did in January. During his three terms in the House, Manweller rose to assistant floor leader and served as a committee chair. 

This story has been updated. 

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."