Oregon regulators continue to investigate Pacific University
The Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries continues to investigate Pacific University for withholding personnel records from former employees, which could result in thousands of dollars of fines.
In March, BOLI sent a letter to Pacific's attorney, Ivan Resendiz Gutierrez from law firm Miller & Nash, outlining an April 8 deadline to respond to six former employees' requests for personnel files, three of which are suing the university.
That deadline was extended to May 31, and attorney Robin DesCamp, who is representing the former employees, said it passed without Pacific releasing the records.
Spokesperson Mike Francis said on behalf of the Pacific administration that the university did send BOLI a letter by the May deadline, which he said "outlines the status of personnel file requests," and on June 2, BOLI acknowledged receipt of the university's response.
In an email, Francis reiterated the university's position that some of the records are protected by state law.
"Files from the university investigations involving three former faculty members are protected from disclosure to third parties by the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine. There are also student privacy protections provided by law that restrict the university from disclosing other documents," Francis said. "(State law) does not allow the complainants or their counsel to invade these protections, and consequently, the complainants' attempts to use their BOLI complaints to obtain such records is improper and in direct conflict with applicable law. "
Francis added one former professor has no restricted personnel records because the professor never applied for tenure, another never requested their personnel records, and a third individual failed to send their request for personnel records to the proper email address.
DesCamp refuted those claims. and BOLI has recognized all six requests.
"There are no clients who never requested their records. There are no clients who sent a request to the wrong email address," DesCamp said.
BOLI has yet to state whether it believes Pacific's arguments hold up, declining to answer questions from Pamplin Media Group on the subject.
If BOLI does find Pacific is failing to comply with its investigation, the state could fine the university $1,000 per day for each case — in this case, $6,000 per day.
"If the employer fails to comply with the investigator's findings that the personnel records are due to the employee, then the division may pursue civil penalties against the employer for failure to provide the employee's personnel records," BOLI spokesperson Amanda Kraus said in an email. "The civil penalty for violating the personnel records law is defined in statute as an amount not to exceed $1,000 as defined in (state law)."
Kraus added, "The division defines each violation … as a separate and distinct offense. In the case of continuing violations, each day's continuance is a separate and distinct violation."
Kraus added the investigation is ongoing, as BOLI's cases remain open until there is a final order and all opportunities for appeal have been exhausted.
Three of the former professors requesting personnel files, Raphael Hamilton, Richard Paxton and David Scholnick, are still suing the school for a host of claims, including wrongful termination and a toxic and retaliatory work environment. Paxton died in December, but his estate is continuing to press his claims against his former employer.
DesCamp, the plaintiffs' attorney, said the personnel files contain reports from internal investigations the university then used to justify allegedly wrongfully terminating or forcing resignation.
"Pacific University has spent untold sums of money in legal fees attempting to thwart their employees' rights under Oregon law to know what's in their personnel file," said DesCamp. "The documents my clients are demanding will prove, unequivocally, that they were either fired or forced to resign under fraudulent circumstances and extreme duress. Accused of misconduct in which they never engaged, and subjected to secret investigations that didn't follow Title IX or university policy, each of my clients have essentially the same case."
She added, "These documents are dangerous — and Pacific University knows it. So rather than follow the law, they are choosing to be fined. That tells you all you need to know about what's in those files and what is not. I look forward to seeing a jury interpret the actions of an employer who would rather break the law, and be fined by the government, than to just tell the truth."
DesCamp said the university has rebuffed her offers to engage in settlement talks, and she believes the administration intends to take the cases to trial.
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