Tale of Woe II: Deceased VQR editor's family files $10 million lawsuit

The family of former Virginia Quarterly Review managing editor Kevin Morrissey, who took his own life two years ago following documented tensions at the magazine, including alleged psychological abuse from former editor Ted Genoways, has filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the University of Virginia, former UVA President John Casteen, Genoways, and two human resources employees.

The suit, filed in Henrico Circuit Court on July 25, seeks damages for "intentional infliction of emotional distress by Genoways," and "gross neglect" on the part of UVA, Casteen, and the HR employees.

"As a direct and proximate result of the emotional distress caused by Genoways, Morrissey was not of sound mind when he took his own life on July 30," the complaint states.

The 27-page complaint, filed by the Richmond law firm Hairfield Morton, details events leading up to the July 30, 2010 suicide, a self-inflicted gunshot wound beside the old Coal Tower property at the end of Water Street, using a series of emails between Morrissey, VQR staff, and officials in HR and the President's office.

Much of this was detailed extensively in the Hook, including a story in January this year that revealed Morrissey's attempts to deal with alleged abuse from Genoways, but the complaint also includes communications not previously published.

For instance,  it is revealed that former VQR web editor Waldo Jaquith emailed Casteen's chief of staff Nancy Rivers on July 30, before he knew of Morrissey's death, with concerns about Genoways' behavior. According to the complaint, Genoways had been warned by the President's office not to retaliate for complaints that his staff had made against him, but an allegedly abusive email interaction with one employee that morning prompted the email from Jaquith.

"If anything escalates into a situation where their safety is being threatened, please call the police immediately," Rivers relpies, "even if the threat is given over the phone… leave the office if needed."

In addition to Casteen, the suit also names Angelee Godbold, UVA Human Resources Consultant Manager, and Alan S. Cohn, former director of Faculty and Staff Employee Relations.

The suit alleges "gross negligence" on the part of Casteen, Genoways' only superior, who had allegedly been made aware of Genoways' behavior toward his staff years earlier. Genoways, the complaint alleges, was allowed to avoid taking mandatory classes for managers, and repeatedly violated UVA policy regarding employee disciplinary action. Additionally, a UVA investigation revealed that Genoways had misused VQR funds. And questions still remain about his hiring of Alana Levinson-Labrosse, a young intern and major UVA donor, without a formal search.

On July 23, the complaint alleges, Godbold told VQR staff member Molly Minturn that VQR was treated with "kid gloves" and was "the president's baby," and then went on to describe the VQR office as "dysfunctional and poorly managed." Both Cohn and Godbold, the suit alleges, were made aware, on two separate occasions days before Morrissey's death, that he was under tremendous stress and might be suicidal.

In effect, the suit alleges that Godbold, Cohn, Casteen, and senior members of the President's office were made aware of Genoways' alleged problematic behavior, and Morrissey's troubling mental state, but "failed to intervene."

UVA spokesperson Carol Wood declined to comment on the lawsuit, but according to a source, an email was sent out on Monday, July 30 to certain employees advising them not to delete any emails associated with the VQR. 

As Hook legal analyst David Heilberg points out, the last time the Virginia Supreme Court made any substantive pronouncements concerning the "intentional infliction of emotional distress" claim, it was about a case right here in Charlottesville.

Back in 1996, the wife of a St. Anne's-Belfield School baseball coach began receiving anonymous letters from someone claiming her husband was having an affair. As it so happens, local best-selling author John Grisham, who had a child at St. Anne's and was a friend of the baseball coach and his wife, also received an anonymous letter. Grisham, wanting to get to the bottom of it, obtained handwriting samples of the person they suspected of writing the letters, and a handwriting expert determined that the woman they had targeted could have written the letters. Grisham and company took their case to the Commonwealth's Attorney, and a detective investigated the woman, but no charges were filled.

The woman then filed a lawsuit, claiming "intentional infliction of emotional distress" caused by the investigation. At the Circuit Court level, the case was thrown out. But on appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed that decision and allowed the woman to move forward with her lawsuit.

"It's not that they believed her allegation to be true," says Heilberg, "but that the woman could seek damages on those grounds."

That case never went to trial, leading Heilberg to offer an educated guess that was settled privately out of court.

For the suit brought forward by Morrissey's family, this precedent could be important. In fact, Heilberg suspects their case will be allowed to move forward because of it.

Still, he points out that there are enormous challenges for the Morrissey family. One big difference is that there is not a living individual claiming "infliction of emotional distress." Instead, such claims are being made on the behalf of a deceased person, someone who took his won life, based largely on on circumstantial evidence. The fact that Morrissey had a history of depression could be an obstacle as well, as it shows a preexisting condition. While that doesn't mean the family doesn't have a claim, says Heilberg, it could effect the measure of the damages.

Heilberg also believes that there is not a strong case against Godbold and Cohn, as they were simply trying to do their jobs within the confines of a situation that may have been dysfunctional at its root.

Finally, the family will have to prove that Genoways, the main instigator of the alleged abuse, was acting as an agent of UVA and/or President Casteen. On his own, Genoways is what's called "collection proof," meaning its unlikely that he would be able to make a $10 million payout. With the heavily insured University, however, its a different story.

"UVA has the deep pockets," says Heilberg.

Like the Grisham suit, Heilberg suspects this one likely won't make it to trial, as neither party would likely want the tragedy re-played in court.

The Morrissey family declined to comment on the suit, and Casteen could not be reached for comment. 

The suit also asks for $350,000 in punitive damages, together with the cost of attorney's fees, and demands a trial by jury.

–developing story; will be updated–


The Casteen Era at UVa will be remembered for many things, but this will be a dark blotch on the record.

Part of my frustration with the Dragas & Co attempt to oust Sullivan has been that many of the problems they site originated in the Casteen Era where much money was raised, but one need only look around town at all the new buildings to realize how much was spent. And sadly when it came to
personnel matters an air of hubris appears to have prevailed.

President Sullivan has worked hard to change that culture and her work in that area is, I believe is what precipitated the strong show of support to keep her at UVa.

The Daily Progress scooped you (not). While you have this workplace harassment story they have the coffee cup workplace saga on the front page.

Sic transit gloria mundi. I applied for the job but never heard back.

I agree with you on the Casteen Era. While I thought Sullivan was a great breath of fresh air after the good ole boy Casteen-Sandridge regime, I am not quite convinced Sullivan has done much to change the internal plantation culture of UVA. For instance, I thought the VQR was a white wash report and the new anti-bullying system was tested out by an acquaintance and found to be really lacking in terms of efficacy, more symbolic. It also looks to me that she is leaving in certain deans who are not the best leaders or managers (some of who did not seem very supportive of her right after the first Dragas meeting with them).

There is a new faculty senate faculty survey coming out soon and I am betting its not flattering of some deans and department chairs in some cases. I wish she would allow the faculty Senate to hire and pay for a really good outside management consulting firm to come in and do a trustworthy 360 management review of the way the place is run, the level of transparency from the POV of regular faculty, staff, and students.

Can you provide some evidence of how she is working hard to change the culture. I want to believe. I supported her because I knew she was better than Casteen and better than a Dragas inspired replacement would have been. But I am not seeing tangible concrete, culture reform.

PS I meant VQR Report that Sullivan conducted.

I was also bullied at UVA in another department. I'm glad this is happening! So maybe all those bully bosses will be closely watched. The people that work in Human Resource do not help employees, they only make things worse. Bullying ruins peoples lifes.

What is the status of the Harrington family suit against JPJ?

im going to start prop bets on lawsuits soon. out of control, and not just here, in general.

Lawyers believe in "eat what you kill" -- so they are always wanting to sue. Some have good character, though it may be just as rare for them as for the ordinary mortals.

@ Citizen Party -- "A really good outside management consulting firm" is not what UVA needs. It needs more people like Edgar Shannon. It needs men and women who have good character and principles. Hill & Knowlton got Ms. Dragas in trouble; in fact, they dragged her into what would have been considered an honor code breach if she were a student (passing off their work as her own). "TTT" is the adage that applies here. Only someone incapable of acquiring much education would actually opine that computerizing a substantial part of a UVA degree's main coursework could actually result in "better" or "more effective" "education" -- what we're looking for as an end product is human beings who have good character, not robots who've been stuffed with facts and artificially fattened on a diet of color screen addiction. Real education is very expensive. So is reading a book. Will we see you at the Messiah Sing In? next December? Or would that be too close to the plantation for you?

Dan Friedman, the Harringtons filed a civil suit in Roanoke County against RMC, not against UVa or JPJ. It has not even been served.


"A really good outside management consulting firm" is not what UVA needs. It needs more people like Edgar Shannon. It needs men and women who have good character and principles."

I agree but How do we get there? I should have said bring in a good organizational consultant firm, the kind that come in and analyze, using confidential methods, what's wrong with an organization. The kind that can say your problem is that your leadership does not have enough "Edgar Shannons" in it. I didn't mean a firm like Hill and Knowlten, they are not organizational consultants.

"Will we see you at the Messiah Sing In? next December? Or would that be too close to the plantation for you??--HUH?

The Messiah Sing In could be considered part of the "plantation culture" if by using that phrase you meant the totality of life at UVA and perhaps above all, if you meant "Lawn Worship." The VQR should hire me to run it for five years to transform and guide it in a positive direction ...... I had no idea its troubles ran so deep when I applied for the job. But thanks for your interesting comment about the plantation culture, which did make me wonder if you'd ever read the second volume of Uncle Remus ....

Or did you just see the Disney movie version .... ?

I'm still trying to track down the wonderful person who left a small-scale model of the Rotunda carved out of snow about halfway up the Lawn during a snowstorm on the night of the Messiah Sing In more than 20 years ago... in ... 1988, I think it was. Maybe someone reading this thread can help? A startling vision, and it was before the days of cell phone cameras.

I think the Harringtons have until oct 10 or 11 to serve papers, unless there's some agreement that they can take their sweet time.

If we could have remembrance now
And see as in the winter's snow
We shall, what's golden in these hours,
What's golden where we stand

Yet looking back in days of snow
Unto this golden day that's now,
We'll see all golden in these hours
This memory of ours.

-- Ford Madox Ford

with some edits

Casteen the teflon man, nothing sticks. Under him, I'd conceded that - across the Schools, the University improved from the O"Neil and Hereford times.But there was a a price-low transparency and the transformation of UVa into just another big, pretty good university with distinctive branding and not much else individual.
The complex relationships of senior Pres Casteen, junior "poet" Casteen and Genoways could be further examined

Casteen should run for Governor ....

Good for the family. This is a profoundly strong statement which is helping abused workers in situations similar to Kevin`s immeasurably. I am one of them.

Bullies are rotten -- we all can agree;
the problem's not men -- it's what some folk can be. There is a certain office or corporate culture that can perpetuate rewarding people -- men and women -- who bully their subordinates. Or who beat up on proxies -- straw men, stick figures? -- and this second group includes popular radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh. I was sorry to hear that this may have probably happened at UVA -- I still hope it happened less often at UVA than might (sadly) be the norm elsewhere. Some years ago, I worked for a pretty good lawyer who bullied me unmerciful nearly every day, often in a way that demeaned me on a personal level or disparaged my abilities. It's a confusing situation. You can't quite believe it's happening to YOU. I needed the job pretty bad, I guess -- is why I put up with such bullying after the second occurrence. Couldn't believe it was happening to ME .... Cowards rarely change, and it's important to remember that "All Bullies Are Cowards."

Once donors become more important than anyone else bad stuff happens . Unfortunately UVa has crossed that line and one can only wonder what will happen next.

Will Sullivan tackle institutional reform in a substantive manner? Is the threat of the law suit and damages enough to spur policy and organizational change at UVA? How do you eradicate bullying from a top-down organization?

Workplace Democracy?



@Nancy Drew -- donors sit on the Board of Visitors. I'm okay with that as long as (a) they keep on giving, (b) their term number is limited to one at a time, (c) and the BoV adopts a rule requiring that its members adhere to the University's Honor Code in all dealings related to the University. I'd like to see Ms. Dragas lead the charge on adopting the Honor Code for the BoV -- and then she might like to go on a long tour of Szechuan, looking for transistorized peppers.

Also, I'd like to suggest that the University balance its commitment to financial donors on its Board of Visitors by increasing the representation of distinguished academics from other institutions and other countries to at least half the total number of Board members, and raising the minimum financial contribution for voting membership to a more substantial level than is current today. In other words, let the Governor appoint half the team, but let the flower of Academia appoint the rest. If Ms. Sullivan needs a personal chef, I'd love to have the job.

See University of British Columbia's Board of Governors appointment process:


@Citizen Party -- that looks great! I don't see why monetizing a seat on the Board of Visitors is a good idea, nor how it serves the best interests, not just of UVA but of the Commonwealth at large. Overall, it's getting harder and harder not to notice that Canada, as in this case, might do many things in a way that America might consider emulating. They have a bilingual province, too -- though America has one in the State of Southern Florida ....

Defending lawsuits is a growth industry at the Big State School. Harrington, Love, Morrissey. What law firms are hired by UVA and where does the money come from to pay the lawyers and settle these cases? Something's very wrong in Charlottesville.

@ D Fried Man -- Most of those people you named live in Albemarle County, don't they?

Dan F, the Harringtons aren't suing UVA. They're suing RMC Entertainment. Don't think UVA is even named in the suit. The suit blames Morgan's death on the arena not letting her back in again -- as though inevitably she would have gotten killed because of this, and not taking into account any personal responsibility on her part. The thing is, Virginia is one of the last three states that has 'contributory negligence' -- this legal notion that even if RMC's policy or actions are found to be 99% responsible for her death, and Morgan's decision to drink or take drugs that night or hitch hike instead of hanging around an hour for her friends to exit the stadium is seen as being 1% responsible, the Harringtons cannot collect any money. Google it. It's fascinating. A Virginia jury once awarded $3.5 million to some unfortunate woman who had a terrible reaction to over the counter medicine and ultimately went blind from it. But because the woman didn't follow the directions and stop using the drug after her first symptoms, the award was thrown out because of her contributory negligence. The Harringtons are also suing for $3.5 million. That exact amount. I think it will end the same way.

Who Knew: It's for a jury to decide in all these cases

Christian: I want you to sign my copy of Beloved Gravely

Dan F, Contributory negligence wipes it all away. I think the jury will be hard pressed to conclude that her own actions did not figure into the tragic outcome -- if they even think the arena had anything to do with it. She was seen hitch hiking by multiple witnesses. Unless arena policy instructs departing guests to do that, I don't think they can be held responsible for her taking a chance like that -- a chance that badly backfired, and turned out the way your mother always warned you that it would if you hitch hiked. .

As some wonderful Hook reader pointed out once, if she went out and bought a winning lottery ticket after getting locked out, would the arena be entitled to some of the winnings? Or...What if she left and went to a party and wasn't killed until the next day. Still the arena's fault? What if she was killed the following week? Still their fault?

With all respect Who Knew, you are not judge and jury in this case. A judge and jury will determine if JPJ was negligent and contributed to the death of Morgan Harrington by not re-admitting her to the gym-palace where medical staff might well have saved her life. Reasonable people may differ. That's why it's for a jury to decide, not individual readers of the Hook.

@Dan -- why Thanks! ... sure ... you can find me and some contact information by clicking my name in the comment thread, which should take you to a food blog titled High Value Eats. I come along to town fairly often these days (once a week, usually at least ... my best to you .-- cg

Dan, I can't imagine that a reasonable jury would not be able to put two and two together and figure out that she was an adult, she had a cell phone, she had a wallet, she had friends nearby, she had a car -- she had every reason and every means and every option to not take the foolish chance that she took by trying to hitch hike instead of just hanging out in the lot or on campus. In other words, they will conclude that her own negligence contributed to the outcome. It's not the arena's fault that she took an unfortunate situation (being denied reentry, per stated policy, posted signs, and verbal warnings) and made it worse. And who is to say that if the arena had offered her medical assistance for her scuffed chin she would have taken it? They couldn't hold her against her will. Maybe if they said she'd have to cool her heels there for the remainder of the show she wouldn't have just said "I'm outa' here" and gone on her merry way? Would you still blame them 100% for her death? Would you blame them at all? "If only her dad hadn't bought her those tickets." Should we blame him? She'd be alive if she hadn't gone. Where does culpability begin -- only when we get to what you see as a deep-pocketed place of business?

The fact that she made a foolish decision which led to such a tragic outcome might (or might not) be because of her inebriation; why aren't we mad a whoever got her drunk? She wasn't old enough to buy anything for herself. More contributory negligence on her part.

I'm not sure I can even understand why Dan mentions Morgan Harrington when talking about Kevin Morrissey. I don't know what's going to happen with Kevin's case, but how will Morgan's even be a trial issue for UVa? She was warned several times by the RMC staff not to leave JPJ, but left anyway, went out into the city (JPJ is not physically within central grounds, it is surrounded by city streets) and chose to hitch hike with a random stranger.

Kevin Morrissey's case is nothing like this. Neither is Sharon Love's.

All the UVA hacks are alive and well. I think there are still Penn State hacks and alumni still in denial of what their esteemed Admin did in that case. What on earth makes anyone think this Admin doesn't do its fair share of covering up. Puhlease! I think the embarrassing parade of lies, conspiracy and bull last June by those in the Admin and BoV left no doubt to any free thinking person that UVA is a den of corruption. You couldn't get away with this in a fiction novel as it would sound absurd!

Because the negligence is institutional, Hook Reader, that's why. Negligence is the common thread linking the three cases. Negligence at JPJ for Morgan; negligence in the athletic dept for Yardley; negligence in HR and in the office of the VQR for Morrissey.

The Slipshod Chronicles! ... I'll be in Charlottesville Friday ....

Dan I agree about Morrissey, but not about JPJ and Morgan. It's for good reason venues don't let drunk and beligerant patrons back in who have left the building. Sure would been better had she been arrested in the parking lot by one of the many policemen who were out there. She must have tried hard to avoid them.

We need to go back to taking personal responsibility. And I don't say this in support of Ted Genoways, I don't even know the guy, but grown married men with children who are counting on them don't go and kill themselves because their boss was mean to them. That's the actions of a disturbed man. The only person responsible for Kevin Morrissey's suicide is Morrissey. Yes, Genoways should have been dealt with by UVa.....but a person doesn't go and *end their entire life* and inflict that kind of agony onto their surviving loved ones all because their boss was mean. If Genoways was what he has been made out to be, then Morrissey should have left and moved on to greener pastures. Not end his life and leave a wife and children without a husband and father. He was obviously a talented guy and could have gotten another position elsewhere, where his talents would have been appreciated and better utilized.

I say this in the hopes that anybody reading this who either is currently contemplating suicide because of a job/bullying situation, or who finds themselves in that position down the line, will heed these words. Killing yourself because of a transient job, or transient school, and some s*** head people who don't matter in the big scheme of things is not the way to go. You kill yourself, and they win. Bottom line. It means they got the best of you in the most ultimate way imaginable. You're dead, the world is denied your presence, your family is torn apart and racked with grief, and meanwhile the bullies and tormentors are still alive, and smugly going about their business. They won't care. It doesn't teach them anything. They won't "pay" for what they did. The only one who loses is the person who couldn't see the forest for the trees and went and killed themselves, not recognizing they were in a transient situation with s*** heads that don't matter. Living well is the best revenge. Moving on, not getting affected by them, and making a better life for oneself if the way to go. And I say this as somebody who was severely bullied growing up. I've been there. Nobody had my back, not even my parents. They didn't care, which was the ultimate betrayal. But I went and made a good life for myself and what a life it's been. :) That's what people in these situations need to do. Get away. Make a better situation for themselves. Not kill themselves.

Off the soapbox...

@Been there,

Agreed to a certain extent. Now let's make sure that bullying behavior inside institutions is penalized and stopped. Some people in jobs can't walk away that easily because they need the job. Our environment intersects with our own state of mind. Why should people have to work in a toxic environment when they don't have to? Sometimes environmental matter comes over mind. The fact that Kevin could have taken another path, doesn't mean that there should not be social pressure to stop bullying. There is also institutional responsibility because institutions are made by human beings, so ethics and caring and well being are part of the meaning making, part of the reality

We need leaders with values and ethics with an ethos of treat others as you would be treated. Those leaders and managers have a trust to protect. If they are not against bullying in the workplace they must be for it.

Sullivan should do a top-bottom review on bullying in every unit of the University. She should hire someone who staff and faculty trust and put together a confidential review where employees can speak their minds about bullying. The Curry School has one of the nation's foremost experts on Bullying, I am sure he could recommend an external consultant to handle the job.

She should then let go every bullying manager that meets the criteria of a bully and where there is solid evidence of bullying. Start anew and create an anti-bullying culture at UVA.

PS doesn't the 14th Amendment say corporations are people? So institutions can be negligent just like people.

Not sure jpj was negligent about morgan. She left the venue, left the lot. That's not their fault. The arena is not a babysitter for 20 year olds.

Yes I think there is a difference between Morrissey and Morgan circumstances. I was referring to Morrissey case.

@Been There
Who are you talking about? A man married with children? You need to read the past stories of Kevin Morrissey & just maybe you might think differently. I don't know one person who is happy 100% of the time. I agree with "citizen party"! Kevin was seeking help & no one listened, as usual! Workplace bullying should be against the law & the bully bosses should serve jail time when found guilty.

@beenthere: Bullying is not transient; it produces permanent damage. It pushes people over edges. The attitude that one should just shrug it off is unrealistic and not in accord with facts about depression.

But while we're at it, let's not forget that VQR was also the personal vanity press of Casteen's son.

The suit, filed in Henrico Circuit Court on July 25, seeks damages for "intentional infliction of emotional distress by Genoways," (GUILTY) and "gross neglect" on the part of UVA, Casteen, and the HR employees. (Not Sure if this is Guilty or not guilty)

"As a direct and proximate result of the emotional distress caused by Genoways, Morrissey was not of sound mind when he took his own life on July 30," the complaint states. (NOT GUILTY, if you have to prove only the intentional infliction caused his death and nothing else, GUILTY if you only have to prove it was part of it)