Stanford Confidential: Sex, Lies And Loathing At The World’s No. 1 B-School

He and his peers are aware of the need to balance “. . . our own academic goals and the desire to socially interact with all these great people around us. . .,” Scheybani says. 

Before today, Scheybani and some of the smartest young people on the planet were starting their MBAs in the classrooms of the GSB unaware that they are walking into what dozens of current and former staff have described as an inequitable, retributive workplace and ignorant of lurid allegations about their new dean contained in thousands of pages of legal documents piling up in a state courthouse 20 miles south in San Jose and in state divorce court in Sunnyvale, two towns away. 


Within the eight volumes of Santa Clara County Superior Court files in San Jose, which form a stack more than a foot high, and within the three volumes in Sunnyvale Superior Court, details of the dean’s affair include the revelation that Saloner used the alias “Jeni Gee” while telling Gruenfeld on Facebook that he hoped Phills, Gruenfeld’s professor husband, would leave the school. 

An excerpt of correspondence between GSB dean Garth Saloner and GSB professor Deborah Gruenfeld, from court records

An excerpt of correspondence between GSB dean Garth Saloner and GSB professor Deborah Gruenfeld, from court records

At some point, and via a mode of communication not made clear in court documents, Saloner and Gruenfeld had an exchange that Phills’s lawyers call “probative of whether he bore ill will towards Phills.”

In the correspondence, Gruenfeld writes, “He deserves a starring role, but you need to rewrite: (sic) the ending.” Saloner responds, “Knife. Penis. Town square. Got it.”

Phills was fired April 3, 2014 from his full-time job teaching in the GSB MBA program, with the termination effective June 3 of this year. Phills’ lawsuit was filed a day before he was fired, but court filings indicate the termination had been in process before the lawsuit was filed, suggesting coincidental timing. 


Originally from South Africa, Saloner arrived at the business school as an economist with a quiver full of degrees, including a 1977 MBA from his native country’s University of Witwatersrand and from Stanford, an undergraduate degree in economics, an MS in statistics and a PhD in economics, business, and public policy.

He had deep academic credentials: professor for eight years until 1990 at the MIT Sloan School of Management, national fellow at the Hoover Institute in 1986-87 and visiting associate professor at Harvard Business School in 1989-90.

Entering the GSB as a professor of strategic management and economics, he moved into administration in 1993 as senior associate dean for academic affairs, serving until 1996.

A Sloan Fellow and co-founder of the Stanford Computer Industry Project, Saloner also founded the Center for Electronic Business and Commerce and designed the Summer Institute for Entrepreneurship. He is one of only two GSB faculty members to twice win a Distinguished Teaching Award, an annual honor decided by student vote, in 1993 and 2008.


In the wrongful termination suit, Phills accuses Saloner of railroading him out of the business school while sleeping with his wife. “Saloner and Plaintiff’s wife Deborah Gruenfeld, who also happens to be Saloner’s subordinate, carried out a clandestine intimate relationship while Saloner was making decisions about Phills’ employment and home loans,” Phills’s lawyers claim in a May court filing. The dean and the university “acted maliciously, fraudulently, despicably, and oppressively,” Phills’s statement of complaint says. 

Phills’s lawsuit seeks unspecified general and punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees.

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