Former head of humanities endowment accused of misspending _lowres

Michael Sartisky

Before he was fired as executive director and president of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities almost two years ago, Michael Sartisky had been accused of sexual harassment by three female co-workers, according to court records.

An internal investigation concluded that inappropriate behavior on Sartisky’s part amounted to a “pattern and practice for at least 15 years” — he had been with the New Orleans-based organization since 1982 — and that he “could not be rehabilitated,” the records said.

The documents form part of a lawsuit and countersuit that Sartisky and the endowment filed against each other in federal court over his departure and his use of the endowment’s funds. Portions of the court record had been sealed until the two sides agreed Monday to work out a settlement.

The documents do not detail the alleged behavior that led to complaints of sexual harassment. But they do outline the circumstances surrounding Sartisky’s firing in February 2014, something that had never been publicly explained.

Sartisky — who declined comment Friday because the settlement is not finalized — has consistently denied the allegations. And court records show his attorneys sought information in depositions that could potentially have been used to discredit his accusers.

At one point, records show, the endowment worried — based on the way Sartisky’s legal team had questioned witnesses — that he might suggest the women involved had encouraged the overtures and that one wore revealing clothing around him because she thought he liked it.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt never ruled on a request to prevent Sartisky from introducing such information at a trial; that request will be moot if a settlement is finalized.

The agreement to settle the suits comes after Engelhardt indicated that he did not see enough evidence to support most of Sartisky’s allegations of mistreatment, other than the possibility that he was owed some money for unused vacation time and benefits.

Attorneys on both sides of the case didn’t respond to requests for comment this week.

During his lengthy tenure, Sartisky earned credit for boosting the endowment’s profile, assembling a 500-page bicentennial history of Louisiana arts, maintaining an online cultural encyclopedia and writing articles for the organization’s magazine, Cultural Vistas.

However, his tenure came to an abrupt halt when he was notified in December 2013 that he was being suspended with pay because multiple staff members had accused him of sexual harassment.

Court records say that six people interviewed by an outside investigator hired by the endowment corroborated the accusers’ accounts of Sartisky’s behavior. The investigator recommended that Sartisky be fired, and the LEH’s governing board unanimously voted to dismiss him in early 2014.

Sartisky then filed a wrongful-termination suit in federal court, accusing his successor and former deputy, Miranda Restovic, of having “conspired with the accusers to concoct damaging allegations in a concerted effort to overthrow” him.

Insisting that the investigation into his behavior was flawed and influenced by his enemies at the endowment, he also asserted that he was owed almost $133,000 for paid leave he never took and unused fringe benefits.

The endowment then filed its own lawsuit against Sartisky; the cases were subsequently consolidated.

The organization said it did not owe Sartisky as much as he sought, and it accused the former director of improperly spending tens of thousands of dollars of the endowment’s money for artwork that he kept for himself. The endowment also accused him of abusing his fringe benefit account and taking more paid time off than he was allowed.

Sartisky’s attorney said the endowment’s claims were vindictive and lacked “anything approaching sound reasoning or proper analysis.”

Earlier this month, the endowment filed a request with the judge asking that certain lines of argument be ruled inadmissible, suggesting that — based on the questions his attorneys had been asking — Sartisky might argue that his accusers didn’t mind his alleged advances. The request said two of the women had turned down job offers elsewhere, and the endowment’s attorneys didn’t want Sartisky’s side to be able to argue that fact showed they were happy at the endowment.

The request further criticized testimony elicited in a deposition that one of his accusers might have told someone that she wore revealing skirts because Sartisky enjoyed them.

The endowment’s document also objected to the fact that Sartisky’s legal team had sought to elicit testimony about whether two of his accusers had slept with co-workers, perhaps even atop a computer at the endowment’s office on one occasion.

Engelhardt dismissed most of Sartisky’s claims against the organization Dec. 2, citing a lack of evidence to support the notion that his firing was unjust.

The judge said it was not clear yet exactly how much money Sartisky is owed in unused leave and fringe benefits and that issue needed to be resolved.

On Monday, Engelhardt served notice that he was dismissing the case because “all of the parties ... have firmly agreed on a compromise.” The two sides have 60 days to finalize the settlement, or the case could be reopened, he said.

As of Friday, Sartisky listed his occupation on Facebook as LEH’s “president emeritus.”

Restovic will begin her third year in charge of the endowment in February.

“We are eager to put (this) matter behind us so that we can continue advancing the mission of the endowment,” Brad Adams, chairman of the LEH board, said in a statement Friday.