University fired professor who reported sexual misconduct, Oregon lawsuit says

A tenured professor fired by his university after he repeatedly brought concerns about sexual misconduct to university leaders was awarded $1 million in a settlement, according to an Oregon lawsuit.

The professor, Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, was fired by Linfield University “without notice” on April 27, 2021 — the day his students were scheduled to submit their final projects, the lawsuit says.

Pollack-Pelzner says in the complaint he was fired for reporting allegations of sexual harassment from colleagues and students at the private university, which enrolls about 1,700 students with campuses in McMinnville and Portland.

In a statement, a university spokesperson said it had agreed to resolve all legal claims with Pollack-Pelzner but denied the allegations.

“The university has made its position clear on the merits of the litigation through filings and submissions to the court,” the statement says. “However, defending against litigation, even when confident in the legal outcome, diverts time and energy from the mission of the institution. We felt it preferable to resolve this situation and move on… Most importantly, this agreement allows Linfield to focus on building and expanding upon its rich educational heritage and creating a welcoming community for all.”

Reporting sexual misconduct

In November 2019, a faculty member told Pollack-Pelzner, who served on the university’s Board of Trustees, that a new trustee had “touched her, asked about her marital status, and proposed that she accompany him off-campus,” during a faculty-trustee event, the complaint says .

That month, another faculty member told Pollack-Pelzner one of her former students said a trustee had inappropriately touched her and made inappropriate comments at a student-trustee event in spring 2019, the complaint says .

Pollack-Pelzner told the university’s vice president about the reports and suggested the Board of Trustees conduct sexual harassment training for trustees, come up with clear guidelines for trustee behavior and have “alternative formats” for social events, the complaint says.

He led a group of faculty and staff members in sending a letter to university leadership requesting diversity and inclusion training for the campus community after hateful and racist graffiti was found in a dorm, the lawsuit says.

Pollack-Pelzner, who is Jewish, also reported anti-Semitic comments from university leaders, the complaint says.

In February 2020, the university president said Linfield would be “destroyed from within” like many ancient civilizations because of internal dissent and “disloyal” people who criticize the institution, according to the complaint. He also said people who criticize Linfield should follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, the complaint says.

During a meeting, a board chair also accused Pollack-Pelzner of having a “secret agenda” and attempting a “power grab,” comments he interpreted as anti-Semitic, according to the lawsuit.

Pollack-Pelzner, who was a tenured professor of English and Shakespeare, learned he was terminated on April 27, 2021, when his university-issued laptop “froze in the middle of a work-related video conference,” the complaint says. When he tried emailing his university email address, he received a bounceback message stating that he was no longer a Linfield employee.

A few hours later, he received an email from the university’s provost saying he had been terminated, according to the complaint.

The university did not pay him the salary or severance he was entitled to, the complaint says.

“(Pollack-Pelzner’s) reports and opposition to unlawful discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault were a substantial factor in Linfield’s decisions to censor, discredit, disparage, and discharge plaintiff without even providing him the predismissal notice and a hearing to which all tenured University faculty are entitled,” the complaint says. .

Pollack-Pelzner’s firing in April 2021 touched off a wave of protest from parents, alumni and a national education organization, according to The Oregonian.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national civil liberties organization focusing on the rights of students and faculty on college campuses, sent a letter to the university’s president in response to the firing.

“The egregious nature of terminating a faculty critic without process cannot be overstated, nor can the chilling effect on student and faculty expression that will follow Linfield’s reckless conduct,” the letter said, according to The Oregonian.

Pollack-Pelzner signed an agreement for a total settlement amount of $1,037,500 on Jan. 26, according to his lawyers.

Pollack-Pelzner, who is now a visiting scholar at Portland State University, said in a statement that everyone should “be able to work and study without fear of discrimination or harassment.”

“And everyone should be able to report their safety concerns without fear of retaliation,” the statement says. “I’m grateful for the many students, alumni, and colleagues who joined me in demanding change and refused to be silenced when Linfield failed to uphold these essential principles.”

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