Pacific Faces Lawsuits, Investigations in Wake of Dismissals

Pacific University came under fire in Oregon media over the summer after 3 former Pacific professors filed lawsuits against the university totaling $3.3 million. Dr. Richard Paxton, formerly of Pacific’s College of Education, and Dr. David Scholnick, a former biology professor at the University, filed two of the suits on May 5, 2021 and June 15, 2021, respectively, citing “whistleblower retaliation” and “unlawful employment discrimination” as the believed reasoning for their suspensions and subsequent termination.

 Fallon Hughes, a former Coordinator for Experiential Compliance at Pacific’s School of Pharmacy, filed a federal complaint citing “Unlawful Employment Action, Title VII Discrimination and retaliation; and supplemental state law claimson” according to their suit filed on July 2, 2021. This lawsuit lists only the University as a defendant. Scholnick’s suit lists both the university, President Leslie Hallick, Pacific’s General Counsel Jennifer Juegas, and several other members of the administration. Paxton’s suit also lists Yruegas, Hallick, and several other members of the administration as defendants. It also lists, outside Title IX investigator Lori Watson, who was brought on by the university to investigate claims made against Paxton.

Paxton, who was the first to litigate against Pacific in May, claimed that the university ousted him for unfounded reasons.  According to his complaint, Paxton reportedly joined a meeting with Jennifer Yruegas, Pacific’s General Council and, at the time, Title IX Coordinator and Human Resources Director, as well as Dr. Lief Gustavson, the Dean of the College of Education on Oct. 9, 2020. In the meeting, Gustavson and Yruegas reportedly informed Dr. Paxton that he would be suspended pending a Title IX investigation in light of allegations of racism and sexism made by Paxton during classes.

According to OregonLive, “More than 10 undergraduate and graduate students in two academic programs filed complaints with the university between August and October 2020 over comments Paxton made during class regarding gender, gender identity, race and other ‘protected characteristics,’ according to the university.”

Paxton’s complaint claims that his status as a tenured professor should have protected him from employment action by the university and that the university never specified the complaints made against him to him outright. The university also launched an external Title IX investigation into Paxton’s behavior in classes, which has since been terminated.

Paxton was placed on administrative leave with full pay and benefits in October and officially terminated from employment at Pacific via a “notice of dismissal” on Aug. 25, 2021. At DesCamp’s request, The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is also conducting an ongoing investigation into Paxton’s claims that the university retaliated and discriminated against him.

Scholnick, the second to file a suit, was at the center of another Title IX investigation after supposedly being the subject of complaints from female faculty members. In a meeting with Dean Sarah Phillips and Yruegas on July 11, 2019, Scholnick claims that he was told that he would be subjected to the investigation unless he resigned from the university, as “some Title IX violations could be considered criminal and potentially lead to criminal charges, which would be avoided by his resignation.” The complaint also alleges that Scholnick was informed later about the nature of the complaints, including that faculty reported him for bias towards male coworkers to be awarded tenure and for verbally harassing female employees by shouting at them.

“No allegations of any kind that would call for an investigation under Title IX or any Pacific policy were described to Dr. Scholnick during that meeting, or at any time since,” DesCamp wrote in the complaint filed in June. “No allegations warranting criminal charges of any kind have ever been provided to Dr. Scholnick.” The complaint also mentions that Scholnick “never been biased against, aggressive toward, or yelled at a colleague in his entire career..” whether the colleague was female or not.”

“This is a familiar story at this point, sadly,” DesCamp told OPB on June 15. “While there are currently two cases filed, there will be more in the coming weeks.” Three weeks later, Fallon Hughes’s complaint was filed.

According to the final complaint filed against Pacific in recent months, Hughes, Pacific’s Coordinator of Experimental Compliance in Pacific’s School of Pharmacy, experienced frequent instances of sexism within her department and filed several complaints with Jennifer Yruegas, Pacific’s General Council. In September 2018, when Hughes was chosen as a “staff representative” for an employment survey in the School of Pharmacy, she included unspecified allegations of “sexism and racism,” as well as “illegal employment practices, such as not getting lunch or rest breaks.”

 After allegedly uncovering instances of sexism through the survey, Hughes claims that she was allowed to “occasionally telework” until Dr. Anita Cleven, assistant Professor of the School of Pharmacy, changed the telework policy so that only one Coordinator for Experimental Compliance could telework. Hughes’s complaint claims that “This affected only two female employees,” while, “A male comparator” was never made to comply with the new telework restrictions. Furthermore, upon taking a leave of absence due to illness in January 2020, Hughes claims that she was unable to record an out-of-office message for her phone: an issue she claims she resolved when she returned from leave. However, shortly after in Feb. 2020, Hughes attended a meeting with Yruegas and Maddie Fry, Interim Assistant Dean for Experiential Education, in which Yruegas referred to Hughes’s “ongoing performance issues,” such as failing to leave an out-of-office message. She was subsequently, “Directed… to sign a paper stating that she had resigned.” All three complainants were presented with a similar sheet of paper upon their dismissal from the university. 

In an email to The Pacific Index, Michael Francis, Pacific’s Associate Director for Communications, said that, while Pacific cannot, “…comment on pending litigation or personnel matters,” the university is working toward resolving these cases. 

“As these employment disputes have arisen, Pacific has followed and is following established, agreed-upon procedures, including inviting plaintiffs to appear at hearings by peers,” said Francis. “The university is committed to full and fair handling of all employment matters through the personnel and legal processes.” — Isabelle Williams


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