See more of the story

DULUTH — Lake Superior College's former dean of business and industry has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the college, claiming he lost his job for raising concerns about potential contamination by an industrial chemical.

Miles Lunak alleges that the community college retaliated against him for reporting that filtration and ventilation systems for the school's downtown campus welding program, which can produce toxic fumes, hadn't been serviced for some time. The lawsuit alleges potential contamination by hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing pollutant behind the blockbuster case against Pacific Gas and Electric in California in the early 1990s.

According to court documents, Lunak, who began working for the college in July leading a team of 60, spoke with college leaders early on about what he saw as state and federal safety violations. He was worried that without proper maintenance, hexavalent chromium levels were beyond what's acceptable.

When Lunak allocated money to fix the filtration and ventilation systems, a college vice president, Linda Kingston, shared her "displeasure with the cost," the lawsuit says.

After that, the college began removing some of his responsibilities, including overseeing the school's popular aviation program. In November, Lunak was fired, just four months after starting in his role. He stayed on the payroll for another three months per his contract, but he was banned from the campus and told that trespassing charges could be filed if he returned. His title and job duties were removed.

The college has filed a motion to dismiss the case "and is confident the complaint is without merit," spokesman David Kline said in a statement.

"We take great pride in the vital role we play meeting the region's workforce needs and providing access to higher education that truly transforms lives," he said, and "we place the highest importance on providing a safe, welcoming environment for students, employees, and visitors."

Lunak's concerns were never taken seriously by college administrators, said his attorney, Naomi Martin, despite directly relating to his job duties.

"Our lawsuit alleges that instead of recognizing the gravity of a potential hexavalent chromium contamination and prioritizing the health and safety of the community by addressing the situation, the defendants tried to silence Mr. Lunak by threatening him with criminal prosecution and firing him," Martin said.

Leaders also failed to respond to union concerns over whether toxic chemical levels had been tested, the lawsuit alleges.

Lunak, who also complained about his treatment after reporting alleged missing funds and racial discrimination that he said he observed against another employee, is seeking at least $200,000 in damages. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is also named as a defendant in the case.

Lunak has worked for several institutions within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, including the Minneapolis Community & Technical College, where he taught for 10 years.