COLUMBUS, Ohio — A former Ohio State University professor who resigned during a "psychotic episode" now wants her job back. The university said it is too late.
Dr. Angela Bryant spent more than a decade as a tenured associate professor of sociology at the OSU's Newark school. The next thing she knew, she woke up in a psychiatric hospital after being declared incapable of caring for herself by the Franklin County Probate Court — and, she no longer had a job.
"I do not have any memory of sending that email, and it took some time for people to convince me that that actually happened," Bryant said.
In November 2020, Bryant sent a two-sentence note to her boss: "I resign! Go f*** yourselves bc you are about to PAY UP!"
Bryant was experiencing a "manic episode," set off by a recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder and PTSD, court records showed.
From January 2020 to November 2020, Bryant was hospitalized five times due to her mental illness. Her ex-husband took emergency custody of their children, she set fire to her wedding dress, she believed the government was spying on her and talked to herself and her hallucinations.
Two days after she sent the email, she was involuntarily institutionalized.
"I had colleagues and family members reaching out to the university to tell them this resignation email was not made in a time of competency," she said.
Her colleagues and family were in continuous contact with her supervisors from the start of her manic episodes in January 2020 through the year, she said. Her coworkers, who had been forwarded her resignation, reached out to her supervisors to inform them that her bosses knew she was mentally ill and she didn’t actually mean her resignation. Even her parents reached out to OSU, documents showed.
"The notion that I would send that kind of email to my employers..." she started. "When I was with a rational mind, [I was] completely embarrassed and had so much shame, actually, that it was hard therapeutically to get through the shame of that."
She tried to rescind it as soon as she was coherent, which was nearly two weeks later, her emails show.
"That email was sent in the middle of a manic episode with psychosis when I wasn't rational to send it," she added. "It should have been allowed to be rescinded by my mind when I sent the email on November 23rd of 2020."
Her two supervisors, one of whom she sent the original resignation to, responded to her rescission with an email stating, in part: “while you now claim that you made an 'error in judgment' in tendering that resignation, once you submitted the resignation and we accepted it, it became final.”
Bryant lived a relatively stable life up until December 2019, she said. She adored her job, her kids were close to her and she had spent a decade on a partnership with the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to bring her students into the facilities to work with those incarcerated. The program was abruptly shut down without reason, and this set her on a downward spiral, she said. The state said they would check into a News 5 request on why this was shut down, but they never followed back up.
"There's a real question whether, legally, that she was competent to resign," said Fred Gittes, Bryant's attorney.
This is where the whole debate starts.
"The law would say if they were involuntarily institutionalized, the answer would be no," National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Ohio's Deputy Director Luke Russell said. "That's a court action, that is a legal action — it's pretty severe. They wouldn't be able to make any rational decision."
News 5 records requests show Bryant filed a charge of discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC), alleging that OSU engaged in an "unlawful discriminatory process" by accepting her resignation while she was in a state of psychosis, a disability, and refusing to allow her to rescind it.
"Somebody with type 1 diabetes who, because of a medication issue, is on some type of insulin shot — and we know that can cause cognitive impairments," Bryant said. "In fact, that person in that process sends an email like I sent — would they be excused from that email and able to rescind it? I absolutely think the answer is yes."
The university, however, said they repeatedly attempted to provide Bryant a path forward at the OSU, she just chose not to take it.
Although they did not agree to an in-person interview, a spokesperson for Ohio State spoke on the phone and gave a statement over email to News 5.
It says, in part, “The Office of Human Resources routinely assists employees with workplace accommodations, family and medical leave, short-term and long-term disability, and other services and supports.”
OSU stated their University HR and Disability Accommodations managers attempted to get Dr. Bryant to fill out disability, FMLA and other documentation to help her a multitude of times throughout 2020, court records showed. The school also extended the deadline to complete FMLA paperwork in October.
After said deadline, court documents state the university said her leave was denied due to “failure to submit certification.” While getting out of her psychosis, she submitted the paperwork, she said.
"I wasn't allowed to rescind my resignation because they now knew fully the extent of my diagnosis of bipolar and PTSD, and they were using those diagnoses as a reason to get rid of me," she said.
In the OCRC case, OSU vehemently denied Bryant’s claims.
Their “position was based on an operational and business-related practice that had nothing to do with Dr. Bryant or her alleged disability status,” the documents said.
Therefore, the Commission found that it “isn’t probable” OSU engaged in discriminatory practice, citing that it wasn’t based on Bryant’s disability status, but rather there is no policy to rescind a resignation.
There is also “no policy in place that would entitle Dr. Bryant to rescind her resignation or require OSU to accept such a rescission," according to the documents.
"Well, if you don't have a policy, that means you can do it or not do it, it doesn't mean you can't," Gittes said.
The university stated that “although there is no policy in place regarding this matter, it is the practice that OSU does not permit faculty who have resigned to rescind their resignation for any reason whatsoever.”
"When Dr. Bryant demanded that she be able to rescind her resignation because, as she proclaimed, she had made 'an error in judgment,' OSU legitimately and non-discriminatorily refused to do so," the university said. "Dr. Bryant voluntarily resigned her employment with OSU and that resignation was acknowledged and accepted."
While still in her psychosis, Bryant sent another email acknowledging her boss accepting her resignation:
"Good because I’m suing OSU for violating my FMLA years ago by making me work while on FMLA (teach classes; Bill Macdonald,that’s illegal). So, I will be on FMLA indefinitely. Paid! Intermittent FMLA is federal law. Talk to your legal teams! OSU drove violence to my personal community and MY home. How’s the football player who was shot in the face? That’s on OSU! Period," she wrote.
The Commission stated Bryant “failed to supply any medical documentation to support her leave; therefore the decision makers were not 'officially' made aware of the charging party’s disability.” Thus, the case was dismissed.
Bryant requested a reconsideration, with her court documents showing OSU “knew about her mental health status.”
"Now remember, I'm in a psychiatric hospital, so the idea that I can get in touch with my employer is a little bit preposterous," she added.
But she wasn't always in the hospital, OSU said. They assert she had many chances to fill out her paperwork.
The former professor's team brought up what they are calling the case's "Catch-22:" “due to her condition, Dr. Bryant was unable to process and comply with requests for documentation and information, but no one else was allowed to answer such requests on her behalf unless Dr. Bryant provided documentation authorizing them to do so.” Bryant and her team argued she was not in the place to be able to comprehend that due to her worsening mania.
News 5 records requests show that of the five commissioners, two recused themselves. It was then a split vote 2-1. Two of the commissioners voted in favor of OSU, one in Bryant’s favor. Bryant’s legal team says this is too close of a call.
"Again, it is important that you include the outcome of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission proceedings in your story," OSU spokesperson Ben Johnson wrote to News 5.
"Just because legal was asked to find, 'can we get away with it?' — it's not the same as saying it was actually legal," Gittes said about the OCRC case being decided in OSU's favor.
Bryant and her team then bring up another issue about the OCRC.
"You've got 40% of a supposedly independent investigation body and decision-making body very obviously involved with the issue enough that they didn't want to be seen as voting on the case," the lawyer said about the OSU recusals. "Think about the state investigating the state, right?
"Ohio State is another government kind of state agency. I think there's some implicit bias in the state investigating the state."
Technically, Commission rulings aren’t automatically accepted in the court. So even though Bryant lost with the Commission, her team still has a case to make about the contract.
"There's a real question whether legally, that she was competent to resign and if she wasn't competent, that means contract still exists," Gittes said.
This would be a breach of contract. She asked that if she wasn’t found competent by a court during this time period, why she should be held competent by the university. In addition to this, her lawyer stated her resignation email doesn’t even fit what should be accepted as a tenured professor’s resignation.
"We know in practice at the university what a formal resignation looks like," she said. "It's not that email. That's something that's sent on letterhead and requires actually a letter be sent and signed. That's what we know to be formal as a formal practice in the university setting."
Since her employment ended, she has been fighting for her job back — and she is not alone. Shown in court documents and emails, Ohio State community members have rallied for the professor.
After investigations, both the Faculty Hearing Committee of the University Senate and the Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility “strongly urge Dr. Angela Bryant be reinstated to her position.”
One of the major complaints from each committee was the "lack of compassion" the university had towards Bryant. She agreed.
"If I got an email like that from somebody, I would have never done anything like that," she said. "I would have actually reached out to those people I had been in touch with to find out if the person was okay, and then I would be reaching out directly, whether it be by email, phone or, what have you, to ask myself if the person's okay. I might, because of my background in social work and mental health treatment, I might even have called the police to ask for a wellness check. I remember being so manic that I was scared and I wanted help, but I didn't know how to ask for it."
News 5 reached out to her colleagues that have been supporting her and they want the documents to stand for themselves. We reached out to her supervisors and they did not respond. A friend put together a Change.org petition to reinstate the professor.
In a short response to Bryant’s colleagues, university president and the provost stated, in part: “as you know, personnel issues can be complex and it is difficult for you to discern the full picture of a particular situation without complete and accurate information. We cannot provide the full details of this situation or discuss the specifics of a former faculty member’s employment with members of this committee.”
"I'm not seeking any compensation," Bryant said. "My sole goal is to be reinstated to my position. I honestly think that we could repair the harms that were done."
The only option Bryant has would be to file a claim in court against the university, which she doesn't want to do. OSU has refused mediation, according to Gittes.
OSU's full statement to News 5:
"Ohio State is committed to supporting the health and well being of our faculty, staff and students. While the university takes individual privacy concerns seriously and cannot comment further on this specific case, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission has affirmed Ohio State’s handling of this sensitive employment matter.
University Senate brings together students, faculty, staff and administrators to share in governance of the university. Like any such body, the senate and its committees have established rules and bylaws regarding the topics within their purview, and the senate regularly reviews the work of its committees to ensure they are operating in accordance with those rules and bylaws.
Ohio State offers assistance and support to employees with short and long term disabilities, and the university is fully committed to providing equal opportunities to all employees. Individuals in need of a disability accommodation should speak with their supervisor or the integrated absence management team in human resources. The Office of Human Resources routinely assists employees with workplace accommodations, family and medical leave, short-term and long-term disability, and other services and supports. In recent years, the university has also streamlined its oversight and administration of these important programs and policies. Individuals with concerns about an accommodation are urged to contact the Office of Institutional Equity, which provides oversight of disability services and investigates all allegations of discrimination."