Feb 15, 2019
University Communications

New details accuse Fresno State president of forcing out athletic director in 2017

New details have emerged in a fight between Fresno State and its former athletic director.

Jim Bartko, who resigned in 2017, said he didn’t leave the university by choice while Fresno State claims he did. New documents made public Thursday detail the relationship between Fresno State President Joseph Castro and Bartko leading up to Bartko’s surprise resignation. Bartko accuses top Fresno State officials of forcing him out. Bartko’s lawyers now threaten to sue Fresno State for $3 million.

The documents sent to The Collegian say Bartko was given a choice on Nov. 6, 2017 of either resigning and receiving a minimal severance pay or being fired for being “an incompetent alcoholic.”

According to the documents, Bartko said he was scheduled to meet with Castro after lunch on Nov. 6. When he arrived for the meeting, he was told Vice President for Administrative Service Debbie Adishian-Astone wanted to be present. Castro then said the meeting was not going to be a good one for him, according to the document released by the law firm representing Bartko, Dunn, DeSantis, Walt and Kentrick of San Diego.

The legal document was revealed one day after Bartko put out his own unannounced statement claiming Fresno State forced him out of his job, months after speculation was rampant about why the university had let Bartko go. Fresno State issued a response countering Bartko’s claims but did not address specific claims made by Bartko.

In Thursday’s document, Bartko alleges he was given the choice between resigning or being fired. According to him, he was shown a five-page long termination letter that, according to him, characterized him “an incompetent alcoholic.” Several documents were placed in front of Bartko and he was only given a few minutes to read them, according to Thursday’s document.

The legal documents also state that Bartko asked if he could speak with an attorney. He said he was given only a few minutes to try to call one. He tried calling his wife but failed. He then called his administrative assistant but, according to him, “she had been confronted by a human resources employee from Fresno State and was allegedly ‘too upset’ to talk with Bartko.” Then, according to Bartko, Adishian-Astone knocked on the closed conference room door and told him,”time’s up, you have to make a decision.”

Bartko said he then signed the resignation letter and a settlement agreement and release. According to the claim by his lawyers, the settlement agreement and release is legally invalid. “The release and waiver procured on Nov. 6 was not ‘knowing and voluntary,’ Mr. Bartko was not given a reasonable opportunity to read it, he was not permitted the advice of counsel, and it was induced by fraud, duress, undue influence, or other improper conduct by his employer,” the law firm said.

Bartko claims that Castro, and/or Adishian-Astone and/or current interim Athletic Director Steven Robertello “engaged in a ‘whisper campaign’ by telling donors and other prominent members of the central San Joaquin Valley community in the days leading up to Bartko’s forced resignation that Bartko was going to be fired because he was an alcoholic and he wasn’t doing his job.” Bartko alleges the “whisper campaign” caused “a ripple effect that continues to cause damage.”

Also according to the claim, there was nothing but praise for Bartko until after he revealed in January 2017 that he had been sexually abused as a child by a priest. He said this came to light after an anxiety episode in December 2016 that led him to seek treatment in Arizona. While undergoing treatment, he said he was finally able to admit and talk about what had happened to him years before.

After he returned to Fresno in January 2017, his relationship with Castro changed, according to Bartko. He alleges that Castro criticized him for his handling of the hiring of Jeff Tedford as the head football coach three months earlier. He said Castro was also critical of how he had handled his leave of absence in December and January.

On Mar. 23, 2017, Bartko said he was called into a meeting with Castro and Adishian-Astone, where the subject of his drinking alcohol while on official business came up for the first time. He was reportedly told “there should be very few times” he should be consuming alcohol while on campus business. Bartko said he was also told there were issues with expense reimbursements; that they were inaccurate, incomplete and submitted later than Castro wanted. He said he was directed to submit expenses within 45 days and use a bank card from then on. He also said he was told he would have to pay personally out-of-pocket for university-related expenses and then seek reimbursement from the Bulldog Foundation.

According to Bartko, at no time did Castro or Adishian-Astone ask him if “he needed assistance or an accommodation, and they did not offer support to him despite the fact that they knew or had reason to believe he was suffering from protected medical conditions related to the abuse he suffered as a child.”

According to Bartko, things did not improve between him and Castro and Adishian-Astone. He exited Fresno State eight months later. The claim released Thursday alleges Bartko suffered more than $3 million in damages. He added his claims against the university, Castro, Adishian-Astone and Robertello include “wrongful termination, retaliation and discrimination on the basis of mental disability/medical condition; failure to accommodate; failure to engage in a good-faith interactive process; intentional infliction of emotional distress; defamation; breach of contract; and declaratory relief.”

Fresno State said Wednesday they would not comment further on the matter after releasing a statement that said Bartko resigned voluntarily and had cashed the check given to him after he was released from the campus.

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