Second lawsuit filed against Pacific University
Pacific University is facing a second lawsuit stemming from ongoing claims of mistreatment and wrongful dismissal by former professors.
David Scholnick filed an official complaint June 15, claiming he was both lied to and wrongfully forced to resign by then-university general counsel, Title IX coordinator and associate vice president of human resources Jennifer Yruegas.
The former tenured biology professor's $2 million suit comes less than three weeks after suspended Pacific professor Richard Paxton filed a similar claim for $1.3 million against the university, also naming President Lesley Hallick, Yruegas (who will be the school's dean of the College of Business effective July 1), Provost John Miller, college deans Sarah Phillips and Leif Gustavson, HR staffer Tammy Scheenstra, and independent investigator Lori Watson as defendants.
Robin DesCamp, attorney for both Scholnick and Paxton, indicated that the recent suits may be the tip of the iceberg, as Pacific wrestles with an increasingly public rupture between its administration and some faculty members.
"Rather than commenting on the specifics of this case, I am going to let the complaint speak for itself," DesCamp said in an email to the News-Times. "This is one of two filed cases at the moment, with others coming as I pull them all together."
DesCamp argues that Scholnick and Paxton's complaints against the university aren't based on isolated incidents, but a pattern of behavior by the administration at the Forest Grove-based private university.
"Is there a systemic problem at Pacific? I think the answer is clearly a resounding 'yes,'" DesCamp said. "Each of my clients have their own story, but all of them are breathtakingly similar.
"I've interviewed over 30 people as I've been working on the Paxton matter since October of last year. Each one describes a workplace filled with fear, intimidation, threats, and the sinking feeling that the concept of intellectual freedom is dead at Pacific University."
In response to the June 15 complaint, Pacific gave the following statement to the News-Times via email.
"Pacific University has just received and is reviewing the complaint filed by the lawyer for Professor Scholnick," the statement said. "At this point, we can say the university disputes the allegations made in the lawsuit and intends to vigorously defend itself."
The statement added: "The lawsuit came as a surprise to the university given the circumstances of Scholnick's separation from the university more than a year ago."
Scholnick's 13-year career at Pacific ended in 2020. In his lawsuit, it's alleged that Scholnick resigned under pressure from the school resulting from a Title IX investigation based on a complaint that Scholnick demonstrated bias against women during the tenuring process, having "supported the tenure of male professors, but not female professors," during his time as the biology department chair.
According to the lawsuit, Scholnick was summoned to a meeting with the dean of his college, Sarah Phillips, and Yruegas during his sabbatical in the summer 2019. The lawsuit alleges that after informing Scholnick of the complaint, pending Title IX investigation and possible criminal charges against him, Yruegas told Scholnick that in order to avoid them, he should resign.
Scholnick refused to do so, the lawsuit states, and disputes the allegation, saying he only opposed the tenure of one female professor, years before he became department chair.
The lawsuit claims the Title IX investigation concluded in October 2019, but Scholnick and Yruegas didn't meet until March 2020, at which point — according to court documents — Yruegas informed Scholnick that the investigation had determined he was biased against women and had been "hostile" and "aggressive" toward colleagues. Shortly thereafter, Scholnick agreed to resign.
"Dr. Scholnick signed the agreement because he was terrified of being publicly humiliated, his career and reputation destroyed and the possibility of arrest and criminal prosecution," the lawsuit claims. "He did not retain a lawyer to help him because Defendant Yruegas had told him he could not speak with anyone."
The lawsuit also claims Scholnick, a 56-year-old white man, was terminated due to his age and race.
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