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Regional Interests

Another Pacific University employee files lawsuit claiming wrongful termination, discrimination

Another former employee has filed a lawsuit against Washington County-based Pacific University.

Fallon Hughes, who formerly worked at the private university’s school of pharmacy, is the third person to file a lawsuit recently against Pacific. She filed her federal lawsuit July 2.

Last month, former biology professor David Scholnick sued Pacific, alleging the university forced him out by leveling allegations of gender bias at him. A few weeks earlier, professor Richard Paxton filed suit against Pacific University, alleging he was suspended for more than a year, over allegations he had violated “the civil rights of his students” with anecdotes and comments he made in class. Paxton claims he has effectively been fired from Pacific — a claim the university has denied.

Like in the other two lawsuits, Hughes states she was discriminated against and forced out by the school.

Hughes began working in Pacific’s school of pharmacy in 2018 as the coordinator for experiential compliance. During that time, Hughes was assigned to be a “staff representative” for a survey in her department. In that role, she and another employee wrote survey questions and emailed them to department staff to answer.

According to the lawsuit, the employee responses to the survey, which went out in September 2018, included “allegations of sexism and racism,” as well as “illegal employment practices, such as not getting lunch or rest breaks.”

Hughes herself also alleged she experienced sexism in her department, according to court documents. Hughes requested in August 2018 that she be able to take a class at Portland State University using “personal development funds” that school of pharmacy staff members receive. Hughes’ boss denied her request, stating it would be “too much to add on to [Hughes’] plate,” because she was planning a wedding. Hughes ended up filing a sexism complaint to Pacific’s assistant director of human resources.

Following the employee survey’s allegations of sexism, racism and illegal work practices, the lawsuit states that Hughes’ supervisor changed a policy which affected Hughes’ and another female employee’s ability to occasionally work remotely. The lawsuit states a male employee was not subject to the same telework restrictions.

As court documents detail, in late 2019, Hughes took medical leave because of an illness. In early 2020, she again needed to take time off for an illness, and got a note from her doctor to do so. During that time, the lawsuit states, she was unable to leave an out-of-office email due to a known computer glitch. She discussed the issue with Pacific’s University Information Services staff, who noted that even the school of pharmacy dean had the same problem.

About a month after her most recent time off, in February 2020, Hughes was called into a meeting and told that she was “going to be separated from the university due to ‘ongoing performance issues.’” Before then, Hughes said, no one had brought anything up to her. The lawsuit also noted her last performance review was positive.

One of the “issues” that was brought up was that Hughes did not use an out-of-office message when she was out sick, even though that was something she had met with the university’s IT department about.

The university’s associate vice president of human resources, Jennifer Yreugas, who is a defendant in the other two lawsuits involving Pacific, directed Hughes to sign a paper stating her resignation, according to the lawsuit. Hughes signed it, but she wrote that she understood she was actually being terminated.

Hughes’ lawsuit claims she was discriminated against and retaliated against because she is a woman, and it states that Pacific allowed a hostile work environment to exist for women. Hughes also claims that the university violated the Family Medical Leave Act by essentially firing her after she took time off due to an illness. Hughes also believes the university acted against her as a whistleblower since she helped share staff members’ reports of alleged discrimination through the staff survey.

The lawsuit does not specify a monetary reward Hughes hopes to receive from Pacific, but it asks for a sum that would compensate Hughes for economic and non-economic losses, as well as attorney fees.

The Lund Report has reported that Hughes filed complaints with Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before filing her lawsuit. The EEOC complaint was dismissed without being investigated; the BOLI complaint was pending investigation before Hughes requested it be closed to facilitate the suit, according to the Lund Report’s coverage of the lawsuit.

Pacific University said it does not comment on pending legal and personnel matters. The university, based in Forest Grove, also has campuses in Eugene, Hillsboro and Woodburn.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting