UNC to pay $335K in settlement

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The University of North Carolina will pay a $335,000 settlement to Mary Willingham, the former learning specialist who was the whistleblower in the school's academic fraud case.

Willingham filed suit against the school with claims she was retaliated against and demoted for drawing attention to the nearly two-decade fraud.

The Raleigh News & Observer received a copy of the signed settlement from Heydt Philbeck, Willimgham's attorney, on Monday. The case has been settled and closed.

"We believe the settlement is in the best interest of the university and allows us to move forward and fully focus on other important issues," UNC spokesman Rick White said in a statement to the paper.

According to the report, Willingham, who made about $60,000 in annual salary, said she will receive the equivalent of three years' salary after legal fees are paid.

"It gets me out far enough that I will be able to get a job," Willingham said, according to The News & Observer.

Willingham initially raised her concerns about the low reading levels of student-athletes, with research that showed a majority of the 180 athletes tested could not read at a high school level. The eventual investigation led to awareness of "paper classes" that never met and earned students high grades for papers, regardless of their quality.

Willingham resigned amid the scandal. She sued UNC in 2014, with claims of a hostile work environment and retaliation. She sought her job back in her suit, but that was not part of the settlement.

In addition to Willingham's suit, the university faces two lawsuits from athletes, problems with accreditation and an NCAA academic misconduct investigation. The fraud is reported to have run from 1993 to 2011 and included more than 3,100 students, roughly half athletes.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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