Therapist Who Criticized Oregon Over Records Resigns

November 3, 2015

A therapist at the University of Oregon who criticized the university for its handling of an alleged sexual assault victim's campus therapy records resigned Monday.

Jennifer Morlok was one of two employees at Oregon's counseling center who blew the whistle on how the university sought and received the records of a student who said she was gang-raped by three Oregon basketball players. The university asked to see the records after the student sued the administration over its handling of her case. The consensus among student privacy experts was that Oregon did nothing illegal, but many considered the university's actions to be an ethical breach that exposed an alarming loophole in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

In February, Morlok penned an open letter denouncing the university's actions. The letter and its fallout prompted the Oregon House of Representatives to unanimously pass a bill that ensures “confidential communications between a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking and victim advocates or services programs are to be kept confidential from disclosure, and by default will not be admissible in court.” The controversy also led to the U.S. Department of Education releasing new guidance about the issue and to federal lawmakers calling for the loophole to be closed.

In a letter sent to the university's president on Monday, Morlok said that after coming forward with her concerns, she was "sidelined" and vilified by administrators and her coworkers.

"I am no longer willing to be treated as though I am an enemy of the very counseling services I enjoyed providing to students -- or an enemy of the very university I received my degree from -- where I had hoped my two sons would attend," she wrote. "It is wrong to treat employees who share problems with the system as though they are the problem."

In a statement Monday, Robin Holmes, Oregon's vice president for student life, said that the university was "opposed to anything that can be construed as workplace retaliation against those who air critical views or opinions."

Another lawsuit

Oregon settled the alleged assault victim's lawsuit in August, awarding her $800,000 and free tuition. On Friday, another lawsuit related to the case was filed against Oregon -- this time by the accused student at the center of the allegations.

Brandon Austin, a former Oregon basketball player, is suing the university for $7.5 million, alleging that Oregon violated his rights to due process when it suspended him over the alleged assault. According to the lawsuit, the university refused to allow "Austin to subpoena witnesses who would be supportive of his defense, refused to provide unredacted reports, refused to provide a contested case hearing, refused to allow cross-examination and otherwise refused to provide the due process required by the United States Constitution and applicable laws."

In the suit, Austin claims that the university "outrageously suspended him," and that the punishment caused him emotional distress and lessened his chances of one day playing in the National Basketball Association. Austin transferred to Northwest Florida State College and played basketball there last season, but has since left to pursue playing the sport professionally.

On Friday, the university released a statement saying Austin "was afforded fair and consistent due process that fully complied with the university's legal obligations."

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