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With independence comes responsibility

4/8/2012: We’ve written a lot about SB242, Pernsteiner’s watered down version of Lariviere’s New Partnership which got through the legislature last summer. One important consequence was that it required/allowed OUS and therefore UO to stop getting legal services through the state DOJ, and instead allowed them to contract with outside law firms. Diane Dietz of the RG explores the consequences, with a case involving a PhD student suing UO over gender discrimination:

Earlier in the case, Force said that he and an Oregon Department of Justice attorney, who represented the UO, had agreed on mediation. “The 9th Circuit mediator had already purchased her plane tickets. We were about four days away when the university pulled out,” he said.

In June 2011, the Oregon Legislature passed a measure that allows universities to do their own legal work, instead of using the state Department of Justice, so UO lawyers took over Emeldi’s case and opted against mediation.

“This is the first time a Title IX retaliation claim by a student has been allowed,” Force said. “It now sets a precedent for the 9th Circuit. “Students who feel they’ve been retaliated against for complaining about gender disparity can sue.” The 9th Circuit panel concluded that Emeldi presented enough evidence that retaliation was possible and that a jury should hear the evidence and decide.

The DOJ was known for its willingness to settle most UO lawsuits with claims less than $500K out of court. It seems like Randy Geller is going to try being tougher. While the DOJ handled this appeal for UO, (court ruling here) it seems certain UO will now have to hire competent outside lawyers if the full circuit court upholds this decision and it goes to trial. Many firms are offering their services, including ones associated with Frohnmayer and Grier. And if I’m correct in thinking that SB242 also removed us from the state insurance pool, UO could be on the hook for quite a bit, however this plays out.

Aside from these issues, this case seems likely to be an important one in terms of the obligations of departments and graduate advisors to their students. See this earlier InsideHigherEd story for more.

Update: Our source in the GC’s office says UO has hired Bruce Campbell of Miller Nash. Thanks.