UO loses lawsuit to Professor Mossberg

11/23/2012: Diane Dietz in the RG:

The University of Oregon breached its employment contract with former physics professor Thomas Mossberg when it dismantled his laboratory at the UO in 2004, a Marion County Circuit Court judge has ruled.

Dietz gets several quotes from UO General Counsel Randy Geller, e.g.:

“We intend to continue to vigorously defend the case and are confident that we will ultimately prevail in the case,” UO General Counsel Randy Geller said.

It’s not clear what Randy means by “We”. Ms Dietz notes that UO is represented in court by competent outside counsel, Miller Nash from Portland. While Geller came to UO in January 2003 (resume here), this intellectual property dispute was presumably in large part the responsibility of Geller’s favorite former boss UO General Counsel Emerita Melinda Grier, who is well known for her “deficient legal representation” of UO in other circumstances.

Damages for the Mossberg case are a long way from being determined. In 2007 Professor Jean Stockard won a $500,000 settlement in a whistleblower lawsuit against UO. One interesting aspect of these suits is who pays. UO has liability insurance of some sort from an OUS policy with United Educators – but I don’t know what they cover. I’ve asked Jamie Moffitt. She thinks the faculty doesn’t need to know that sort of thing, but says I can always make a public records request. Hmm.

Geller loses big case against UO and higher education

Update: WSJ law blog post here.

10/18/2012: This is the Emeldi suit against the UO Ed School. It’s a big deal, the decision is going to make it much easier for students to sue professors. Interestingly the decision was written by 3 judges, the dissent by 7. From Scott Jaschik in IHE. The dissent:

“[T]he panel overlooks the critical differences between academia and the outside world. It applies the law so loosely that one of the laxest interpretations of the pleading standard is now planted squarely in academia, just where the pleading standard should be highest,” the dissent adds. “If this ill-considered precedent stands, professors will have to think twice before giving honest evaluations of their students for fear that disgruntled students may haul them into court. This is a loss for professors and students and for society, which depends on their creative ferment.”

… Randy Geller, general counsel of the University of Oregon, said via e-mail: “We will evaluate the decision, including the dissent signed by seven Ninth Circuit judges, and determine whether to seek additional appellate review.” 

Actually Geller wasn’t really on the case, and we all hope he will not be making any decisions about whether or how to appeal. UO hires competent outside counsel for situations like this, here this included Denise Gale Fjordbeck, Assistant Attorney General and Bruce Campbell of Miller Nash. Geller wanted to hire Frohnmayer’s firm, but Kroger said no. No word on how much this has cost so far. Full decision and dissent here.

More on UO Title IX case

4/29/2012: From Diane Dietz in the RG:

The University of Oregon is asking an appeals court to dismiss a doctoral student’s claim of discrimination and retaliation — and conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum is asking to enter the case on the university’s side. …

My understanding of this case is that a former UO student has won her argument to the appeals court that she should be able use federal prohibitions against gender discrimination in arguing that UO didn’t ensure she got proper dissertation supervision. UO’s lawyers now have to accept that she can argue discrimination, but of course will want to argue that there was none. Ms Schlafly’s group wants to argue that the law against gender discrimination is unconstitutional and take it to the supreme court. I’m no lawyer, but it sounds like a bad combination of interests.

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.