The former president of Seton Hall University in New Jersey sued the school on Monday, accusing its former chairman of trying to intimidate him and sexually harassing his wife.
In the lawsuit, the former president, Joseph R. Nyre, accused the former chairman of the university’s Board of Regents, Kevin H. Marino, of a campaign of harassment. The lawsuit said the university board responded to his complaints with “gaslighting” and retaliation that eventually brought his employment “to a grinding halt.”
As a result, Mr. Nyre said, he resigned last summer after four years in the job.
He was joined in the lawsuit by his wife, Kelli L. Nyre, who accused Mr. Marino of kissing and touching her, and who said the university failed to act on their complaints about the harassment.
The lawsuit said that Seton Hall determined Mr. Nyre to be “a dissident employee whose employment needed to be terminated.”
Laurie A. Pine, a spokeswoman for Seton Hall, denied the Nyres’ allegations on Wednesday.
“The claims in this filing are completely without merit, and we intend to vigorously contest them,” she said in a statement.
A lawyer for Mr. Marino, Christopher Porrino, said in a statement that his client “categorically denies the false and defamatory allegations against him,” adding that “he will seek full legal redress against the Nyres in the appropriate forum after their frivolous and disgraceful lawsuit has been dismissed.”
Mr. Marino is not a named party to the lawsuit. R. Armen McOmber, a lawyer for the Nyres, said they did not sue Mr. Marino because their “issue is with the university and how they acted, not with the core of the problem.”
“If the university had acted appropriately, there would not have been a problem,” said Mr. McOmber. “The university has a responsibility to protect employees, investigate and remediate wrongdoing and make sure its policies are followed.”
In the lawsuit, Mr. Nyre said Mr. Marino repeatedly tried to abuse his power as board chairman, in one instance by trying to hire a friend to a senior university position. In another, he pressured the school to admit unqualified students, including a “close personal friend” of a former board member, Robert Brennan, who had resigned after he was convicted of a felony, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also said Mr. Marino tried to pressure Mr. Nyre into “secretly” returning a plaque honoring Mr. Brennan to the side of the school’s recreation center. The board had removed it from the building after Mr. Brennan’s conviction.
The lawsuit claims that when Mr. Nyre denied Mr. Marino’s requests and reported them to university officials, Mr. Marino erupted into a monthslong rage. Mr. Nyre said Mr. Marino filed retaliatory claims against him, berated him in public and called him “at all hours of the day” to “ominously threaten” him.
In the end, the lawsuit claims the university “failed to uphold its obligation to engage in a timely and effective investigation” into the complaints, saying it allowed Mr. Marino’s campaign of retaliation to continue. The result of that retaliation was Mr. Nyre’s “constructive discharge,” the lawsuit said.
“At its core this is about a very principled man and woman who really tried their absolute best to stand up to a university and to a system,” said Mr. McOmber. “My client will do what he has to do to restore what was, before he was involved with this university, a sterling reputation.”
There was no public hint of discord last summer when Mr. Nyre resigned from Seton Hall, a Catholic university in South Orange, N.J., with more than 10,000 students.
At the time, he said he decided to move on at the end of a university strategic planning initiative, which he called “an appropriate time for new leadership to help write the next chapter of Seton Hall’s remarkable story.”
But his resignation came after a difficult year for Seton Hall, which was shaken by an investigation into financial wrongdoing at its law school in Newark. That inquiry found that a group of longtime employees had embezzled more than $975,000, and led to the resignation of the law school dean, Kathleen Boozang, in November 2022.