Former finance director sues Divinity School

Two years after school officials fired former Yale Berkeley Divinity School Finance Director Judy Stebbins for her alleged involvement in misappropriating school funds, Stebbins filed a lawsuit in New Haven Superior Court last month charging the Divinity School with breach of contract and slandering her reputation.

Stebbins was fired by the Divinity School in September 2001 amid scandal involving former Berkeley Dean R. William Franklin’s alleged misuse of funds. Franklin purportedly used $7,500 in unauthorized funds to help pay for his daughter’s education at Harvard Medical School. While Stebbins admitted to transferring the funds to Harvard, she claimed in her lawsuit that she was following orders from Franklin.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose office is responsible for charitable funds granted to Yale, said the University responded to Berkeley’s dubious finance procedures by taking matters into its own hands.

“[Since the scandal], Yale has taken over control of Berkeley Divinity School finances,” Blumenthal said.

Stebbins could not be reached for comment.

In her lawsuit, Stebbins alleges that Franklin told her the funds she ultimately sent to Harvard Medical School had been approved by Berkeley Board of Trustees Chairman Christian Sonne. Sonne admitted last year to misinterpreting the scholarship program Yale offers its employees. Under the program, professors are allowed a maximum of $10,000, which can only be applied to undergraduate education.

“I was not aware of, and should have been aware, that the payment of the tuition to graduate school was not part of Yale’s policy,” Sonne told the Yale Daily News in January 2002.

But Divinity School officials said Stebbins’ alleged complicity in the misuse of school funds was not the only reason she was fired from her position. The school also cited what it referred to as Stebbins’ “sloppy bookkeeping” and the auditors’ findings that she was receiving salaries from both the Yale Divinity School and its affiliate, the Yale-Berkeley Divinity School, for the same job.

In her lawsuit, Stebbins contends that the dual salary was arranged prior to her employment at Yale and that it was reported each year in the school’s audit.

Stebbins, a resident of Branford, also claims in the suit that the School’s decision to abruptly fire her violates her contract, which she says allowed her the opportunity to improve job performance before employment was terminated.

While Stebbins’ lawsuit has aroused renewed controversy for the Berkeley Divinity School, it has also drawn attention to Yale’s progress in reforming Berkeley’s finance procedures.

Blumenthal said the reforms have had a positive outcome thus far, as the allocation of Berkeley’s funds has not been contested since the debacle of 2001.

The Berkeley Divinity School, an Episcopal seminary, has been affiliated with Yale since 1971.

–The Associated Press contributed to this report

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