$1.3M suit filed after Pacific University suspends professor
A suspended Pacific University professor is suing the university, along with at least six high-ranking school officials, over his suspension and ongoing investigation into alleged misconduct.
Richard Paxton's attorney, Robin DesCamp, filed the complaint May 28, naming Pacific University; university president Lesley Hallick; Jennifer Yruegas, who formerly served as Pacific's general counsel, Title IX coordinator and associate vice president of human resources, and is currently the school's dean of the College of Business; along with provost John Miller; college deans Sarah Phillips and Leif Gustavson; HR staffer Tammy Scheenstra; and independent investigator Lori Watson as defendants.
Pacific put the tenured professor on leave this past October. DesCamp says that followed a virtual meeting with Gustavson and Yruegas, at which Paxton was informed of a complaint against him and was given the opportunity to resign or face a Title IX investigation which would ultimately end in his termination.
Since October, Paxton has been suspended with pay and denied access to campus, the Pacific IT systems and faculty meetings.
DesCamp says the university has withheld information from Paxton and his attorney, not presenting them with the complaint or evidence against him and allowing him only to see "fragmented snippets," tying them to what DesCamp calls "an illegal confidentiality agreement."
"It has been 235 days since my client was suspended without cause or due process, and we are tired of waiting for them to do the right thing," DesCamp said. "My investigation has turned up an enormous amount of evidence showing that Pacific University broke the law, along with my client's tenure rights, and they must be held accountable."
Pacific officials say the school received numerous complaints about comments Paxton made in the classroom "about gender, gender identity, race or other protected characteristics." Paxton allegedly claimed he was shielded by dint of having tenure from any consequences for those comments.
"We take these complaints very seriously, and we are following established federal regulations and internal governance processes to conduct an independent, external investigation," the university added in an April statement provided to the News-Times.
In a new statement responding to the May 28 legal filing, the university said Paxton has not cooperated with the investigation.
"We began a Title IX investigation with an external investigator, and we continue to be disappointed that Dr. Paxton will not participate in the investigation process under Title IX," the university said in a statement. "Given his lack of participation, this filing comes as no surprise."
DesCamp pushed back hard against that claim.
"This is a lie that Pacific University has repeated multiple times, and the reason why they are now looking at a defamation claim," DesCamp said. "We have asked on roughly 25 occasions to meet with the investigator but asked for the unedited Zoom classes so my client could understand the charges against him. The investigator has been allegedly doing her job for approximately 230 days, and yet she has not contacted Dr. Paxton to set up an interview."
Pacific stated that the investigation will continue, in order to "determine what really happened — the facts — and act accordingly."
The university's statement added, "No matter what legal strategies his attorney pursues, we will stay focused on our mission."
Descamp said that simply isn't good enough.
"Determining what happened during a few classes should have taken roughly 2-3 weeks, at most, not eight months and counting," she said. "Needless to say, if they wanted Dr. Paxton to be able to answer as to what 'really happened,' they would provide us with the specific allegations and evidence against him. So why won't they?"
Paxton's lawsuit seeks over $1.3 million from Pacific University.
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