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Regional Interests

Another professor files lawsuit against Pacific University

A former tenured biology professor filed a nearly $2 million lawsuit Tuesday stating that he was lied to and wrongfully forced out by Pacific University. David Scholnick is the second Pacific professor to file a recent lawsuit against the private university.

Scholnick had been working at the Forest Grove institution for about 13 years when Pacific officials launched an outside Title IX investigation against him, resulting in his resignation.

The investigation stemmed from an alleged complaint that Scholnick had a bias against women related to his involvement in the biology department’s tenure process, when he was chair.

Scholnick disputes that claim, and his lawsuit states that even if the claim were true, it would not violate Title IX — the federal law which protects people against discrimination related to sex.

The lawsuit states that in the summer 2019, during his sabbatical, Scholnick was called in to meet with the dean of his college, Sarah Phillips, with no warning that he had done anything wrong. Jennifer Yruegas — Pacific’s general counsel, human resources director and Title IX coordinator at the time — was also present at the meeting. Both women are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims Yruegas told Scholnick that there had been a “serious complaint” against him warranting a “full Title IX investigation.” Yruegas did not tell Scholnick what the specific allegations were, but she said Scholnick could avoid the investigation by resigning. The lawsuit also states Yruegas told Scholnick that some of the Title IX allegations could lead to potential criminal charges, which could be avoided if he resigned.

Scholnick refused to resign and told the university to proceed with the investigation because he “knew he had done nothing wrong.” Scholnick did not know the specifics of the allegations against him until months after the Title IX investigation had begun, according to court documents.

The lawsuit states that the outside investigator told Scholnick that the allegations stated he had “supported the tenure of male professors, but not female professors” during his time as the biology department’s chair.

Scholnick’s lawsuit says department chairs do not have influence over tenure decisions; those decisions are up to a separate committee. The suit argues that the allegation of disparate treatment should never have triggered any sort of adverse employment action by Pacific University, to say nothing of a Title IX investigation and a forced resignation.”

The court documents also state that Scholnick had only opposed the tenure of one female professor, but that was almost 10 years before he had become department chair. Scholnick had opposed the female professor’s tenure “for ethics concerns related to grossly misrepresenting her research accomplishments on her CV.”

Besides that, the lawsuit states that Scholnick had always supported all female colleagues that were up for tenure or promotion at the university.

The Title IX investigation concluded in October 2019, according to the lawsuit, but Yruegas — Pacific’s Title IX coordinator, general counsel and HR director — did not meet with Scholnick about the outcome until late March 2020.

During that phone call, the court documents state that Yruegas told Scholnick that the investigation had determined he was biased against women. The court documents said that he was “hostile,” “aggressive” and “yelled at female colleagues,” though the only allegations Scholnick and his lawyer were aware of the investigation covering were related to bias — not to Scholnick’s interactions with his colleagues.

“Dr. Scholnick has never been biased against, aggressive toward, or yelled at a colleague in his entire career, whether the colleague was female or not. The allegations against him came after he had worked at the university for approximately 13 years without a single complaint or charge by a co-worker or student,” the lawsuit reads.

Scholnick resigned following the phone call with Yruegas. The lawsuit stated he was told he would receive six months of severance pay, but his release agreement only ended up including four months.

“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 reads. “He did not retain a lawyer to help him because Defendant Yruegas had told him he could not speak with anyone.”

When OPB reached out to Pacific University Tuesday afternoon, the university said it was not aware of Scholnick’s lawsuit.

Scholnick is suing Pacific, Yruegas and other university officials on the grounds of fraud, infliction of emotional distress and other claims.

The lawsuit also claims Pacific terminated Scholnick due to his age and race. Scholnick is white and 56 years old.

“Defendants made false allegations of Title IX violations as a pretext for the real reason Plaintiff was terminated: because he is old and white,” the lawsuit states. “This is part of a larger pattern of ongoing conduct by Defendants that will be proven at trial.”

The first professor who filed a lawsuit against Pacific after he was suspended, Richard Paxton, made a similar complaint.

“This is a familiar story at this point, sadly. While there are currently two cases filed, there will be more in the coming weeks,” Scholnick and Paxton’s attorney, Robin DesCamp, told OPB.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting