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A lawsuit alleges discrimination against a disabled former professor who says he was forced to resign.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - The Pacific University campus in Forest Grove, Oregon., Forest Grove News-Times - News Community 'collective' takes university to task over policy regarding sexual misconduct and racial discrimination. Pacific University on shaky ground after weeks of unrestA fresh lawsuit against Pacific University alleges discrimination against a disabled former professor who says he was forced to resign by a toxic and retaliatory work environment.

Rapheal "Joe" Hamilton was hired as an associate professor in the Pacific University College of Business in 2018 with a tenure track of three years before stepping down in June 2021. Now Hamilton and his attorney Robin DesCamp are suing the university, as well as business college dean Jennifer Yruegas, seeking nearly $1.75 million in fees and damages.

According to the lawsuit, Hamilton is a military veteran who suffered a traumatic brain injury in combat, and retaliation from superiors started after he requested — under the Americans with Disabilities Act — a reduction in research requirement due to the need for more time off for medical appointments in February 2020.

The complaint claims Hamilton was harassed and questioned by a direct supervisor over the legitimacy of his disability. It goes on to claim he offered further medical information and applications for accommodations under the ADA to Yruegas, but she refused to even look at his documentation.

Pacific University did not provide Hamilton with ADA accommodations or even officially acknowledge his request for nearly a year, until after Hamilton received an unfavorable performance review regarding his research requirements, the complaint states.

An October 2020 staff meeting is referenced repeatedly in the lawsuit. The suit claims Hamilton attempted to bring up a change in the requirements for an accounting degree that he hadn't previously been told about. Yruegas interjected and said it wasn't an appropriate topic, becoming "very angry" after Hamilton "pressed the issue," the suit adds.

The suit notes that "in tense situations," like the October 2020 meeting, Hamilton sometimes stutters, experiences "heightened emotional response," and exhibits "verbal and physical tics" due to his traumatic brain injury.

The complaint says Pacific officials commissioned a third-party investigation — allegedly by a personal friend of Yruegas — into Hamilton after the meeting, citing "a bias incident report for racism and hostility toward faculty and staff of color."

The investigator told Hamilton, according to the lawsuit, that one of the complaints against him was that he had spoken to Yruegas in a way he would not have "if she had been a white male," and that unspecified other faculty members had reported Hamilton was "out of control" and "unprofessional" during the meeting.

The suit says Pacific officials informed Hamilton in March 2021 that the investigator found that Hamilton was "racist," "aggressive" and "anti-gay" and ordered him to undergo anti-bias training or face further discipline. Hamilton alleges he was never provided a copy of the findings or given an opportunity to refute them.

According to the suit, when informed that another professor had submitted the bias incident report that had led to the investigation, Hamilton emailed the professor to ask about it, but his colleague responded that he had never filed a complaint against him.

Hamilton resigned in late June 2021 on the advice of his doctors, the suit says.

"During this period, and especially after being found 'guilty' of conduct he knew he had not engaged in, Dr. Hamilton's medical condition continued to worsen," the complaint states, adding that "the very conduct he was being accused of (being 'aggressive') is often misunderstood by others who have the same traumatic brain injury disability suffered by Dr. Hamilton in combat."

It adds: "No reasonable person in Dr. Hamilton's position could possibly have continued in the job, which was making him sicker by the day."

Reached for comment, Pacific University spokesperson Mike Francis declined to comment. Pamplin Media Group also requested comment from Yruegas, but Francis said Yruegas also would not comment on Hamilton's lawsuit or other legal complaints against the university.

"Our policy is not to comment on active litigation," Francis told Pamplin Media Group.

The lawsuit, which was filed on New Year's Eve, is the third lawsuit by a former professor against the university since May, all represented by DesCamp.

Richard Paxton, now deceased, sued after he was placed on leave for several months — and later fired — allegedly without being given a chance to defend himself against complaints he made misogynistic and transphobic comments during class. The case is still open and has a hearing scheduled Thursday, Jan. 6, in Washington County Circuit Court.

David Scholnick sued after the university allegedly used a fraudulent internal investigation, similar to the one alleged by Hamilton, to pressure him into signing a severance agreement. The case is currently awaiting a ruling from the American Arbitration Association, which could rule the severance agreement was signed under fraudulent and distressed circumstances and send the case back to Washington County Court.

Another lawsuit was filed last year in federal court by another former university employee, Fallon Hughes. Like Hamilton, Hughes — who was not a tenured faculty member — alleges she was discriminated against for taking medical leave. Unlike the three professors, Hughes is not represented by DesCamp.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries are also reportedly investigating working conditions at Pacific. Pamplin Media Group has reached out to those agencies for comment.

DesCamp also said she has "several" other clients preparing lawsuits over similar allegations of retaliation and discrimination by Pacific and Yruegas specifically.

"Once is once. Twice might be a coincidence. Three times is a pattern. But why do I have even more clients with similar stories?" DesCamp said in a phone interview. "Why is Pacific University making it so difficult and not just doing the right thing for their employees?"


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