The University of California must pay the former chief counsel at its Riverside campus $2.5 million for allegedly retaliating against her for reporting what she called “rampant” gender discrimination at the campus, a jury decided this week.
Jurors found that the plaintiff in the case, Michele Coyle, reported allegations of gender discrimination by the campus’s former provost, and that those reports were a “substantial motivating reason” for her subsequent termination, according to a verdict form.
The executive vice chancellor and provost in question, Dallas Rabenstein, is now retired, but Riverside’s former chancellor, Timothy P. White, who is alleged to have failed to protect Coyle from retaliation, is now chancellor of the California State University System.
The University of California said in a statement that it was “disappointed” in the verdict and that it “vehemently denies the allegations of retaliation made in the lawsuit, and is considering all legal options, including an appeal.”
Coyle, who worked at Riverside for six years before being let go in 2012, was awarded some $783,000 in past lost earnings, $1.6 million in future lost earnings and about $72,500 in other damages.
She claimed in a lawsuit that she’d originally been hired to address issues including harassment at Riverside, and grew concerned about Rabenstein’s behavior. She alleged that he called certain female employees “biddies,” told one woman that mothers of young children shouldn’t work outside the home and joked about having rarely advanced women in his home department.
Coyle said her complaints about Rabenstein were not taken seriously, however, and that instead of investigating, White and others “circled the wagon” around their male colleague.
Things soon went from bad to worse, when the Labor Department planned to conduct an audit of the university’s compliance with affirmative action and equal opportunity laws, according to Coyle’s complaint. Rabenstein allegedly refused to fund a faculty compensation data analysis ahead of the audit -- one that Coyle claimed would have revealed pay equity issues -- and “deliberately mischaracterized” data from previous years.
Coyle requested funding from White but was fired less than a week before the audit was to take place. Administrators allegedly said she had focused too much on policy issues at the expense of giving legal advice, but Coyle claimed they were really trying to silence her. As further proof of that motive, she said she was replaced with a younger, male lawyer with no experience in employment law, and that her previous performance reviews gave no indication of a problem.