A Multnomah County jury has decided in favor of a former Oregon State University dean who sued the school two years ago for whistleblower retaliation. University officials disagree with the verdict and plan to appeal.
Grace Kuo, former dean of OSU’s College of Pharmacy, claimed in her lawsuit that the university aided and abetted in retaliation against her when she reported student concerns of discrimination and harassment.
Along with reporting those student concerns to administrators, Kuo’s lawsuit states she reported the College of Pharmacy’s executive associate dean for allegedly mishandling those student complaints. Kuo said she was advised by administrators to ask the executive associate dean to step down. But Kuo said later university leadership turned against her after pushback from alumni, and Kuo herself was removed as a dean and demoted to a tenured teaching position.
The jury awarded Kuo more than $600,000 — just over $100,000 in economic damages and $500,000 in non-economic damages.
Kuo is now the dean of Texas Tech University’s pharmacy school.
Complaints of retaliation against whistleblowers in Oregon higher education are not unique to OSU. Former Linfield University professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner recently reached a settlement with that university’s administration after he was fired, following reports he’d shared about allegations students and staff had leveled against Linfield leaders.
OSU’s vice president of university relations and marketing, Steve Clark, told OPB in a statement that the university was disappointed with the verdict and will be filing an appeal.
“Oregon State University and its leadership unequivocally and fully dispute Dr. Kuo’s claim that she was dismissed from her Dean position for being a whistle-blower,” Clark said. “Dr. Kuo’s dismissal as dean was solely about leadership. Deans serve at the pleasure of the provost and are judged on their leadership performance and contributions to the university and their college.”
Clark said there was testimony during the trial that raised concerns about Kuo’s leadership as dean.
Clark said the university supports and encourages university community members to report misconduct.