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Former interim dean files lawsuit against District

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A complaint was filed against the Palomar Community College District by Dr. Kathryn Kailikole, a previous interim Dean of Mathematics at Palomar on Nov. 20 2018.


*Everything pertaining to this timeline has been derived from the court file complaint made against the Palomar Community College District. The situations described are current allegations made against the District on behalf of Dr. Kailikole.*


Seven years before Kailikole was a professor at Palomar, two physics professors, Takashi Nakajima and Arthur Gerwig were reported for inappropriate conduct against a disabled student. This incident was reported to the United States Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

After the OCR found the professors guilty of discrimination, the District required Nakajima and Gerwig to undergo sensitivity training.

May 2017 – November 2017:

While Kailikole was interim Dean of Mathematics at Palomar College, she received a report from the Physics Department Chair, Dr. Daniel Finkenthal, that two tenured physics professors had engaged in racial and sexually inappropriate behavior in their physics lab.

The professors, Nakajima and Gerwig, were reported for being involved with inappropriate conduct that included posting, or allowing others to post, racist and sexually explicit messages in their physics lab.

Kailikole reported the complaint to the District, requesting that the two professors be placed on paid leave while the District pursued an investigation. The District refused Kailikole’s request to place Nakajima and Gerwig on paid leave.

The District’s Investigation of Nakajima and Gerwig’s inappropriate behavior proceeded from July 2017 to November 2017.

November 2017:

The District determined that Kailikole and Finkenthal were credible in their accusations and Nakajima and Gerwig were found guilty of violating Palomar’s anti-harassment policies.

The District’s investigator also concluded that the two professors lied about their involvement with the explicit messages posted in their lab.

December 2017:

Nakajima and Gerwig were placed on one month of unpaid leave. Kailikole’s claim determined that this was a “toothless response,” and that the goal of the District “was not to protect students, but rather to avoid the appearance of anything out of the ordinary involving Nakajima and Gerwig.”

Only a few days after Nakajima and Gerwig were placed on unpaid leave, Kailikole was also placed on paid leave. Kailikole claimed that she was escorted off campus without any explanation or information as to why.

There was no mention of job performance issues on behalf of Kailikole, but she claimed she was accused of an alleged confidentiality issue. She was placed on paid leave for five months.

January 2018:

Kailikole hired an attorney to potentially receive information as to why she was placed on paid leave. The District refused to provide substantial information but disclosed that there was an investigation against her that involved the Physics and Engineering Department.

Kailikole believes that this decision was made in retaliation of her reporting Nakajima and Gerwig.

February 2018:

One week after Kailikole made the “retaliation” statement, the District decided not to renew her contract and did not provide her with reasoning for the decision.

The day after the District made this decision, Kailikole was subjected to an interview with the District that regarded a previous incident involving Nakajima and Gerwig. In April 2016, Kailikole reported Nakajima and Gerwig to Campus Police for utilizing an airsoft gun in their classroom without prior permission.

Nakajima and Gerwig had used an airsoft gun for a presentation in one of their classes for the two years before Kailikole was employed at Palomar. Reportedly, Kailikole had been the only administrator to take action regarding the unapproved use of the airsoft gun in their classroom.

After this incident was reported to the Vice President of Human Resources, Lisa Norman, Norman advised Kailikole and Finkenthal to observe Nakajima and Gerwig “to determine if they were violating any rules.”

According to the complaint, Kailikole sent an email to Finkenthal regarding the airsoft gun incident in order to determine if the two professor’s behavior remained appropriate in their classroom.

It was then revealed that Finkenthal had forwarded said email to his wife, which created a belief that Kailikole was going against the confidentiality of the airsoft gun incident.

March 2018:

While still on paid leave, Kailikole received a message from another (unknown) faculty member who relayed a message that indicated Jack Kahn, Vice President of Instruction, said Kailikole would not be returning to her position as Dean of Mathematics.

May 2018:

Kailikole received a letter from Kahn, which contained a recommendation for her termination. According to the complaint, the District concluded that Kailikole was attempting to leak the confidential information of the airsoft gun incident.

Kailikole claims that the District allegation against her was “manufactured by the District because it lacked any legitimate reason to non-renew and terminate Plaintiff’s contract.”

Allegedly, the District refused to renew Kailikole’s contract because of the claim that she had failed to appropriately supervise Nakajima and Gerwig in their classroom.

“[Kalikole is] informed and believes that the District was angry at Plaintiff for reporting the harassing conduct by Nakajima and Gerwig because it required the District to take action against tenured professors, which risked raising suspicions and questions by students and faculty if they were terminated or placed on an extended leave,” the complaint finalizes.

June 2018:

Kailikole’s employment was terminated by the District.

Nov. 20, 2018:

The complaint was filed in court.

end of timeline

Palomar Community College District filed for the case’s dismissal on Jan. 22, 2019. Responses to the dismissal are due by Feb. 15 and replies to the response will be due on Feb. 22, 2019. The judge will then decided whether the case will be dismissed or continue through to its original court date scheduled on April 4, 2019.

In a recent interview, Finkenthal responded to news of the lawsuit and told The Telescope that he was legally unable to speak about the complaint until he viewed the court documents.

“I will say this, I adore Dr. Kailikole,” Finkenthal said, “if she ever needs a recommendation letter for another dean position, I’ll gladly write one for her.”

This is a developing story.

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Former interim dean files lawsuit against District