The Blog

Citing "Mental Anguish," Christine O'Donnell Sought $6.9 Million in Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against Conservative Group

...and falsely implied she was taking master's degree classes at Princeton.

11:50 AM, Sep 12, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Court documents obtained Saturday by THE WEEKLY STANDARD reveal surprising new details about the gender discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Christine O'Donnell in 2005 against her former employer, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative non-profit based in Delaware.* O'Donnell, who is now challenging moderate congressman Mike Castle in the September 14 Delaware GOP Senate primary, sought $6.95 million in damages. In a court complaint, she extensively detailed the "mental anguish" she suffered after allegedly being demoted and fired because of her gender. And, although she didn't have a bachelor's degree until this year, O'Donnell implied she was taking master's degree classes at Princeton University in 2003.

Citing "Mental Anguish," Christine O'Donnell Sought .9 Million in Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against Conservative Group

Christine O'Donnell

O'Donnell alleged in a July 1, 2005 complaint filed in district court that she had been demoted because ISI's conservative philosophy dictated that women must be subordinate to men. She claimed she was fired when she contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding her demotion. ISI told the Delaware News Journal that she had been "terminated for operating a for-profit business."

O'Donnell's finances, honesty, and stability have been called into question in light of her false and strange claims. The court complaint raises further questions on all fronts. O'Donnell, who made an annual salary of $65,000 at ISI as director of communications and public affairs, sought up to $6,952,477 million in damages, claiming, among other allegations, that ISI had defamed her and had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. O'Donnell sought:

--Up to $3,952,447 in "Direct Damages, including back pay" and "lifetime lost income and liftetime damage to reputation."

--Up to $500,000 "for emotional distress, humiliation, emotional pain, embarrassment, depression."

--Up to $3.5 million in punitive damages for "willful, legally-malicious and outrageous conduct" by ISI.

O'Donnell claimed that ISI had caused her to suffer "mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, mental and physical pain and anguish"--and that, according to an amended complaint, she had to "seek treatment for her distress."

According to O'Donnell's July 1, 2005 complaint submitted by herself:

Miss O’Donnell was and is profoundly humiliated by this demotion of being asked to perform clerical and administrative tasks, after appearing on national television as a media and public relations expert and spokeswoman, for a man who was hired straight out of college as ISI’s receptionist and clerical assistant, and whom she had been asked to train previously [emphasis in original]. [...]

For at least six months after being fired, Miss O’Donnell suffered enormous pain, cried frequently at the sense of personal loss and failure caused by ISI, and at the sense of injustice, and could not sleep at night, often wide-awake, replaying the whole scene in her mind, until 5:30 am, and has suffered from understandable and resulting depression.

"Miss O'Donnell's mother and sister both noticed and spontaneously told her at the time, prior to litigation, that she was differently [sic], and urged her to seek medical evaluation," according to the complaint.

An amended complaint, filed by a lawyer on behalf of O'Donnell in September 2005, claimed that O'Donnell did, in fact, "seek treatment for her distress."

"Ms. O’Donnell has suffered extreme emotional harm as a result of the actions taken or not taken by ISI, and statements made by and on behalf of ISI, in the form of grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, chagrin, disappointment and worry. This harm has caused physical manifestations, and caused Ms. O’Donnell to seek treatment for her distress."

The amended complaint also claimed that in one instance a male colleague made a lewd comment to her. "On one occasion during her employment, a co-worker, Mr. Cain, in connection with Ms. O’Donnell’s efforts and work on the Gala, ordered or stated to Ms. O’Donnell to 'strap it on,' which was a crude and demeaning reference to an artificial male sexual organ used by some females in order to act like a male in sexual acts," the complaint alleged. "To Ms. O’Donnell’s knowledge and belief, Mr. Cain was never disciplined or reprimanded for making this offensive statement."

Curiously, the July 2005 complaint alleges that "ISI violated its promise to allow Miss O'Donnell time to take master's degree classes at Princeton," thus causing a loss of "earning power."

"Moreover, Miss O'Donnell has lost the increased earning power that a Master's degree from Princeton would have created. In the future with proper finances, Miss O'Donnell should probably be able to return and complete that program, however that increased earning power has been disrupted and delayed for at least three years, given college application cycles, and the damage to her reputation, creating a loss of increased earning power estimated at up to $50,000 per year, for three lost years at $150,000."

According to the amended complaint, O'Donnell had considered not taking the ISI job because "she had applied for admission to a Master’s Degree program at Princeton University, to start in the fall of 2003, and was concerned that the ISI position would not fit with her plans."

But, in fact, O'Donnell had not yet received her bachelor's degree at that time and had not been accepted to a master's program at Princeton.

The Delaware News Journal reported on Saturday: "[O'Donnell's] alma mater, Fairleigh Dickinson University, sued her in 1994 for about $4,000 in unpaid tuition. She satisfied the debt in 2003 and received her diploma this month after completing an additional course." O'Donnell's campaign manager Matt Moran acknowledged in an email received at midnight Saturday that O'Donnell "was not admitted to a Masters Degree program at Princeton.  She took an undergraduate non-matriculated class at PU on constitutional government." Moran has not yet replied to a subsequent email asking why O'Donnell claimed "ISI violated its promise to allow Miss ODonnell time to take Master's degree classes at Princeton in return for a salary as small as $65,000 for her credentials and expertise, and as a result of ISI's breach of its agreement, Miss O'Donnell was forced to quit her courses at Princeton, losing her time and money invested in this course of study at Princeton. [emphasis added]."

O'Donnell decided to drop the lawsuit in 2008, claiming that she couldn't afford the legal fees. "I definitely felt that there was gender discrimination," O'Donnell told me in a September 2 phone interview, but she declined to elaborate. "I believe that right now that if we unite in the conservative movement, the bigger picture is at stake, and we need to put that behind us."

Still, the implication that O'Donnell was accepted to a master's degree program at Princeton is the latest of many false statements to come to light in recent weeks. Conservative radio host Dan Gaffney challenged O'Donnell on September 2 for claiming she had won two out of three counties in Delaware when she ran for Senate in 2008. In fact, she didn't win any.

According to her financial disclosure form, O'Donnell only made $5,800 last year. "I made more than $5,800," O'Donnell told me in the September 2 interview, but said she did not have to and would not disclose how much.

As the Delaware News Journal notes, O'Donnell "has denied that she was ever sued by her mortgage company or that a foreclosure sale date had been set." But:

"During her 2008 run, her mortgage company sued her, claiming she stopped making payments in October 2007, according to court documents. It received a judgment and the home was set to go to sheriff's sale, according to court documents. She sold it days before to her then-boyfriend, who was acting as her campaign legal counsel, she said."

"She has a shady history and we’re not talking ancient history," conservative radio host Dan Gaffney tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "We’re talking current history, and she lies about it."

"You know, everyone is allowed to have financial difficulties," Gaffney continued. "Everyone is allowed to take time to go to college. But misrepresenting yourself, lying about it, that’s what I have a problem with. I don’t understand why she has to lie about stuff she doesn’t have to lie about."

Even more disturbing, says Gaffney, is O'Donnell's claim in her recent WEEKLY STANDARD interview that her home and campaign office were broken into and vandalized and burglarized in 2008. O'Donnell did not report the alleged burglary and vandalism to the police, but suggested that Castle supporters may have been the ones who committed the alleged crime.

“If that’s true and she didn’t call the police, she’s not only endangering herself but her neighbors," says Gaffney. "She also likes to say there are people hiding in her bushes.”

"It doesn’t sound stable when you add it all up."

*Disclosure: I had a 2006 summer internship at National Review and a 2007-2008 writing fellowship at THE WEEKLY STANDARD that were funded by the Collegiate Network, a program administered by ISI. To the best of my recollection, I've only spoken to one person named in O'Donnell's lawsuit, Kenneth Cribb, only once in my life, back in 2005. I have not spoken to any current or former ISI/CN employees in months and did not obtain any information in this report from current or former ISI/CN employees.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers