The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries last month sent Pacific University a notice of its intent to assess the university for up to $843,000 in fines due to complaints from former employees. The university is contesting that decision.
The private university based in Forest Grove on Nov. 14 requested a hearing from the labor bureau to state its case.
The BOLI case against Pacific is based on complaints from seven former employees who say they were not given their full personnel files as required by state law. Some of those employees say they were forced out of the university due to what they claim were bogus investigations, and they say some documents within those personnel files could help prove that.
In its letter to BOLI, Pacific said it believes that the state agency has been “misled” by the former employees’ attorney, Robin DesCamp, and that BOLI is also “overstepping its authority and jurisdiction.”
The university has stated that it has turned over all of the personnel files it’s able to provide.
Pacific has said it can’t release some parts of the former employees’ personnel files due to barriers like student privacy — for example, if those files contain any student complaints — and attorney-client privilege; Pacific has said some documents should be exempt because they include protected discussions such as correspondence between the university and its in-house counsel or in-house counsel and outside lawyers; it also argues that some attorneys’ work and research should be protected by what’s called “work product doctrine.”
DesCamp, the attorney working with the former Pacific employees, said the university — specifically its general counsel, Jennifer Yruegas — should not be allowed to use arguments such as attorney-client privilege as an excuse to not turn over documents. Yruegas is also currently dean of the university’s college of business. She has also held other positions at the university such as associate vice president of human resources and Title IX coordinator.
“The fact that she is still allowed to make attorney-client and work product designations in a matter which affects her personally … is an outrageous affront to the concept of conflict of interest rules,” DesCamp told OPB in a statement.
In its response to BOLI, the university said a judge and an arbitrator have agreed with it on some of those protection arguments in separate, related lawsuits in which some of the former employees are plaintiffs.
“We look forward to an opportunity to present our case, including at a hearing with a neutral factfinder,” Pacific said to OPB in a statement.
In response to learning that Pacific would be contesting BOLI’s decision through a hearing, DesCamp told OPB: “While I am not surprised at this development, I am disappointed.”
“The legal fees for the BOLI matter are not covered by insurance, so this is yet another example of Pacific paying lawyers to fight its former employees in their quests for the university to simply follow the law,” she said.
There is not yet a timeframe for the hearing to take place, according to BOLI. The agency said it will be scheduled by administrative law judges and a contested case coordinator based on an existing case calendar.