EUGENE, Ore. (CN) - The University of Oregon retaliated against counseling center employees for objecting to administrators' request to copy the medical file of a student who claimed she was gang-raped by three Ducks basketball players, and give it to school attorneys, the former employees claim in court.
Karen Stokes, a former executive assistant at the University Counseling and Testing Center (UCTC), and Jennifer Morlok, a former therapist there, sued the university in Federal Court on Nov. 9, alleging civil rights, Title IX and whistleblower violations.
Also named as defendants are UCTC Director Shelly Kerr, its assistant clinical director Joseph DeWitz, Vice President for Student Life Robin Holmes, and Associate Vice President and Chief of Staff Kathie Stanley.
A Jane Doe student sued the university and its head basketball coach in January, alleging a star basketball player instigated the gang rape in March 2014 - four months after he was suspended from another school for his role in an alleged gang rape there.
Jane Doe settled the claims in August this year for $800,000 .
In December 2014, before Jane Doe sued but after the university knew there was potential litigation, Stokes says Kerr asked her to copy Doe's medical file and provide it to UO's attorneys. Kerr told Stokes not to stamp or document that the file was copied, as was the usual procedure, according to the complaint.
"Stokes did not understand why the request was made outside the normal procedure and protocol and noticed that there was no consent in the file authorizing the disclosure of the medical records to General Counsel, nor was there any notice to the student's clinical therapist of the request as was the norm for medical records requests," the complaint states.
Stokes says she showed the email to Morlok, who was Jane Doe's therapist.
Morlok says in the lawsuit that she had not been informed about the request for a copy and that Jane Doe did not authorize the release.
"Both Stokes and Morlok were aware that there was potential litigation against UO by this student and that UO's attorneys were adverse to the student's interest," the complaint states.
Stokes says she did not make the copies, but another assistant "did Kerr's bidding" and turned over the medical file to university attorneys while Stokes was off work.
Stokes and Morlok questioned administrators, including the university president, about the legal and ethical implications of disclosing Jane Doe's medical file, but their concerns were not addressed, according to the complaint.
They "decided to take action outside UO to address the unauthorized disclosure" and filed complaints with the Oregon Psychology Board. Morlok also filed complaints with the Psychology Board against Holmes, DeWitz and another administrator.
The complaint states: "On Sept. 25, 2015, the Board of Psychology found defendant Kerr in violation of her ethical duties and imposed a $5,000 fine, a letter of reprimand and required her to take ethics courses. Defendant Kerr continued to deny any wrongdoing."
By then, the university already had retaliated against them for whistle-blowing, Morlok and Stokes say.
"On Feb. 8, 2015, Morlok and Stokes wrote a letter of concern to the UO administrators and UCTC employees expressing their concern about the unethical and unlawful conduct of the UCTC administrators and senior leadership in their requests of Morlok to provide 'nonstandard care' for a student who the UO anticipated would sue the UO and that the UCTC leadership had accessed the medical records of the student without the student's permission or consent," according to the complaint.
Stokes says Kerr removed some of her job responsibilities the next day. Stokes says she was not allowed to return to her position after taking family leave to care for her dying father because Kerr said she could "no longer trust her."
"UO used the pretext that Stokes was 'unable to perform the essential functions of
her job with the accommodations provided to her.' That determination was based solely on information from defendant Kerr and other UO personnel, without input from Stokes or her doctor. Stokes disagrees with UO's false and pretextual reasons for her termination and was told by the Affirmative Action administrator on Jan. 9, 2015, that there was no evidence that she could not do her job," (29) according to the complaint.
Morlok says administrators retaliated against her by refusing to answer numerous emails requesting a safety plan for an "unsafe student who had to be transported off the campus" and might be dangerous.
Days later, DeWitz falsely accused Morlok of falsifying her calendar and breaking confidentiality regarding the student, the complaint states.
Morlok says the university also falsely accused her of discouraging sexual assault victims from seeking services.
"In April of 2015, UO falsely accused Morlok of a Title IX violation for 'discouraging' sexual assault victims from accessing services from UO. As a general principle, when discussing informed consent, Morlok advised the students seeking services that if the student believe that s/he had some sort of legal issue with the UO, s/he might want to seek services outside UO, but services were available to all students," the complaint states.
Morlok says she resigned on Nov. 2 after hostile working conditions made it impossible to do her job.
"After a year of retaliation because I spoke up for a client of mine, with regard to the unethical actions of my superiors, I can no longer manage the emotional strain and professional toll I have paid for speaking the truth," Morlok said in her resignation letter posted on the UOMatters blog site.
Stokes is working at a temporary assignment for the university until her contract ends on June 30, 2016.
She and Morlok want economic damages for lost income, non-economic damages and a declaration that the defendants violated their rights.
They are represented by Beth Creighton with Creighton & Rose in Portland.
University spokesman Tobin Klinger said in a statement: "We believe the university has worked diligently and in good faith to balance the complex demands of student privacy, employee rights and fostering a workplace that values trust and ethical conduct."
The three basketball players accused of rape were expelled, but Lane County district attorney did not file criminal charges.
Brandon Austin , one of the players, sued the university for $7.5 million on Oct. 29, claiming the expulsion cost him a professional basketball career.
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