The University of Wisconsin La Crosse is taking a hard look at their spousal hiring policy, after complaints allege a university official misused that policy to get his wife a job in an office that he oversees.
Two university employees filed complaints with the states Equal Rights Division last year alleging misconduct in university hiring practices.
The case has now led to a change in the way the UWL uses its spousal hiring policy.
Former Assistant Director of the Office of International Education Sandra Sieber claims she was passed over for a promotion because of her age and marital status.
The job she wanted was given to Kim Pierce, the wife of Fred Pierce, the man who oversees her office.
Another former office staffer, Jay Lokken also filed a complaint saying he was moved to another department as retaliation after he opposed that hiring.
In October, the university responded to those complaints claiming they did nothing wrong.
The complaints allege that Fred Pierce facilitated his wife's hiring which would violate the university's nepotism policy.
The complaints filed have sparked concern at the university over the policy that helps find university jobs for spouses of current employees.
"In higher ed in general there are often two career couples and it can be very difficult to find two careers at the same institution," said UWL Chancellor Joe Gow.
The spousal hiring policy's goal is to "help dual-career couples meet their professional objectives."
"We want to make sure anybody who is saying take a look at my spouse that the spouse is fully qualified for the position," added Gow.
The challenge with the spousal hiring policy lies within another university rule, the nepotism policy, which says a spouse shouldn't be involved in the hiring process of their partner.
"We need to be sure that we don't do anything where someone would say it was an unfair advantage. That's the gray area, that hasn't happened", said Gow.
With recent controversy over the policy, Gow said they are changing the way they implement the policy and only using it in situations where a job has not been advertised to the public.
"I think where this is always the safest legally is when there is an opening but it hasn't been advertised yet and the timing comes together so we can consider somebody before we get out in another kind of process," explained Gow.
Gow said he supports the policy but wants to make sure those using it are doing so in accordance with university values.
Other local universities have similar nepotism policies. Western Technical College's policy says that employees cannot be directly involved with any employment related decision of a relative or spouse.
Viterbo University said they have a conflict of interest policy. While they don't help employees spouses get hired at the university, they do help them look for jobs elsewhere in the community.
Sonya Ganther, Director of Human Resources at Viterbo, said, "A lot of the times when we have faculty from outside of the area they are bringing a spouse in and most times you will see a lot of faculty members have a spouse that is teaching as well. That's why we try and work with them on any position but it's not a specific policy that's written down. I would help them in the community as well as Viterbo."
Both the UW-Madison and the UW-Milwaukee have similar spousal hiring policies.