Pacific University may have to shell out nearly $4 million following a jury verdict last week.
In 2020, Pacific University indefinitely suspended one of its students after he was accused of sexual and physical assault by another student. Now, years later, the university might have to pay the person who was accused, Peter Steele, for the decision to dismiss him.
Jurors late last week agreed with some of Steele’s claims, resulting in Pacific being on the line for roughly $3.9 million. The university does have some options ahead of it, including an appeal.
Pacific University declined an interview request, but in a statement, Associate Director of Communications Blake Timm said the university is considering whether to appeal.
“At every step in this situation, we followed our policies and procedures and we did not discriminate on any basis,” Timm said. “Then and now, integrity and student safety are top priorities.”
Timm noted that the jury did side with the university on two of the claims — finding that the university did not violate the sex discrimination law known as Title IX in its response to Steele, and that its treatment of Steele did not constitute a breach of contract.
The two claims the jury sided with Steele on were that Pacific had breached the “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” — essentially that Pacific did not act in a generally fair and reasonable way — and that the university had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Steele.
“The jury was asked whether, quote, ‘Pacific University’s conduct constituted an extraordinary transgression of the bounds of socially tolerable contact or exceeded any reasonable limits of social toleration,’ and they answered ‘yes’ to that question,” Steele’s attorney, Kevin Sali, told OPB.
According to the lawsuit, Pacific leaders suspended Steele from his graduate program at the university following the allegations and after the female student filed a restraining order against him.
Steele maintains that his relations with the other student were consensual, according to the court documents.
This lawsuit is one of a handful filed against Pacific University. Others that are still ongoing include complaints from former employees.