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UO President: whistleblower lawsuits 'big business'

Schill dismisses counseling center employees' allegations of retaliation

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - University of Oregon President Michael Schill at the Pamplin Media Group headquarters in Southeast Portland. University of Oregon President Michael Schill defends the university’s actions regarding a December 2014 transfer of medical records from the counseling center to its general counsel. Schill commented on the lawsuit during a Wednesday, Nov. 11, meeting of the Portland Tribune editorial board.

The transfer of medical records of an unidentified rape victim is the subject of a whistleblower lawsuit filed in federal court Monday. The rape victim, called Jane Doe in court documents, settled with the university Aug. 4 for $800,000 and four years of tuition after an alleged group rape by three UO basketball players. The settlement did not assign blame or wrongdoing.

Schill says he is open to criticism “that is constructive criticism and that isn’t demonization criticism or criticism which is based upon salacious details. Or, alternatively, actions that are really just designed to generate money for the complainants. There’s a big business out there of lawyers doing this sort of thing.”

In their Nov. 9 U.S. District Court complaint, university Counseling and Testing Clinic executive assistant Karen Stokes and former UCTC mental health therapist Jennifer Morlok claimed that the University of Oregon retaliated against them for objecting to the way a student’s medical records were shared with legal counsel. Morlok resigned Sunday, as reported by The Huffington Post.

No court date has been set for the case.

Stokes alleges in the 20-page joint complaint that she was asked to copy a student’s file without signed consent from the student and administrators moved to terminate her employment after she filed a formal Letter of Concern.

Morlok says her supervisor, Shelly Kerr, also asked her not to respond to a request from the Jane Doe sexual assault victim for a summary letter of her medical treatment after the victim had filed a notice to sue with the University. Morlok says she felt uncomfortable with the request to provide “nonstandard care” to a student client who intended to sue the university so wrote the letter anyway. Morlok says her employment was threatened as a result.

Schill, however, says none of the university’s actions was illegal. Morlok and Stokes, he says, “ ‘whistleblowed’ on something that was legal, but that’s fine.”

Schill, who was Dean of the University of Chicago Law School until his July 1 appointment to the UO presidency, says the lawsuit was not a surprise.

“Everybody knew that she was setting it up this way,” he says.

Schill says the university has strengthened its confidentiality policies as part of a legal settlement with sexual assault victim Jane Doe and is part of the nationwide effort to decrease sexual assaults on campus. Schill says the university is aiming for zero tolerance and zero incidents.

“We’ve gone out of our way to get better and we’re going to continue to get better,” he says. “We’ll learn and do better.”