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Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant's special treatment

Dr. Edmund Funai, a leader within USF Health, has resigned this month amid questions about his relationship with his assistant. [Courtesy of USF Health News]
Published Dec. 15, 2017

TAMPA — A high-ranking University of South Florida Health official has resigned amid internal concerns that he was giving special treatment to his assistant.

After an internal investigation, USF System President Judy Genshaft was poised last month to strip Dr. Edmund Funai of his leadership title, uncertain that he "understood or appreciated the management counseling" he received about supervisor-subordinate relationships.

Before she sent her letter, though, Funai resigned for a top post at another university.

Hundreds of pages of reports and emails reveal the ripple effects of tension in Funai's department as staffers questioned whether assistant April Ingram got special attention.

Both Ingram and Funai have denied having any form of an inappropriate relationship.

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USF officials found that Funai did not violate USF policy, and Genshaft wrote that his performance was "otherwise exemplary." Still, Genshaft suggested he lacked the judgment for senior leadership, as evidenced by his pushback to university guidance.

Funai remains disappointed about the "false allegations" and told USF he had concerns about its investigative process, Funai's attorney, Ryan D. Barack, wrote in an email.

"At no time was he ever advised that removing his administrative responsibilities at USF Health was being considered," Barack said.

Ingram's attorney, Erin Smith Aebel, said the two were colleagues and friends who shared mutual respect.

"It is unfortunate that this talented young woman's professional success was attributed to an inappropriate relationship instead of her hard work and talent," Aebel wrote in an email. "My client is hopeful that this issue is now closed since these hearsay claims were unsubstantiated."

In a statement, USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said the school investigated quickly and decided to implement a new office structure. The university has also commissioned a climate study in the department with a cost capped at $30,000 from non-state funds.

The issue first came to USF's attention this spring through an anonymous complaint describing a potentially "inappropriate relationship," noting Funai and Ingram's travel and meals together. It questioned whether Ingram "must feel pressured to accompany him."

That complaint, and two more to follow, said staff perceived favoritism for Ingram while office morale sank.

USF assigned a human resources official to investigate. Denelta Adderley-Henry pored over emails between the doctor and his assistant and questioned them at length.

Her 50-page report found no evidence of an affair, but picked apart inconsistencies in the ways Funai and Ingram explained their relationship. For instance, Ingram initially said that she never had dinner with Funai, but emails show them planning such meals. The report said their accounts about certain trips had holes, too.

Funai and Ingram both traveled to London in April. Ingram said she and her son did not fly with Funai or stay with him. Yet the investigator found emails showing that they booked flights together, shared photos of a hotel room and discussed how to get on the hotel's Wi-Fi.

Other exchanges highlighted their close relationship.

Ahead of a trip to Seattle, Funai wrote to Ingram, "I live to buy you the most expensive thing (on) the menu." Both said this was because Ingram was a food enthusiast. Returning from Seattle, Funai said he upgraded Ingram to a first class ticket on his flight so he would have someone with him for the takeoff and landing.

In other emails, they commiserated about not seeing each other for five days. Funai asked Ingram to look at a downtown apartment with him. He emailed her a photo of chocolate-covered strawberries. Both explained the emails as part of their friendly relationship.

Once, Ingram and Funai emailed about where to see a movie on a Friday afternoon. "Well how do you feel about Muvico? Too close?" Ingram wrote to Funai, who replied, "I think it is fine at that hour."

When the investigator asked about the location concern, Ingram said she wanted to be "extra careful" because women in the office had made accusations about her that were "just not true."

Ingram did not mark her early departure for the movie on her timesheet, the investigator found.

"There is evidence that could support the perception that Dr. Funai gives Ms. Ingram preferential treatment or perks not typically expected of a supervisor," the investigator wrote. "There is some type of inappropriate/unprofessional relationship."

Funai initially responded that he was glad to hear there was no policy violation, and that he would be cooperative with rules on supervision.

Two months later, he wrote a longer response asking for due process and factual corrections.

"It is disheartening to think that men and women who are friends and colleagues, who work together closely in demanding roles, are assumed to be in an amorous relationship by virtue of proximity," he wrote, adding, "I have maintained similar informal, cordial and highly effective relationships with my assistants at both Yale and Ohio State."

USF's general counsel, Gerard Solis, replied: "It is a concern that this boundary appears to remain unclear to you."

Ingram also wrote a long letter accusing the investigator of unfair and false reporting, on top of a complaint that her female coworkers' gossip, jealousy and malicious allegations created a hostile environment. USF dropped that complaint. Ingram has been moved to an office outside of USF Health.

Funai came to USF in 2014 as vice president of strategic development and COO of USF Health, a role that brought him into USF's upper administration. He made $613,498.00.

This month, Funai wrote a letter to his longtime friend and colleague Dr. Charly Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health, to say that he is leaving with "extremely mixed emotions."

Contact Claire McNeill at (727) 893-8321 or cmcneill@tampabay.com.

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