Vet seeking doctoral degree sues PSU boss, alleging bias
This story has been updated.
Portland State University is facing a $500,000 federal lawsuit by a veteran and doctoral student in "good standing" who alleges the Applied Psychology program discriminated against him on the basis of gender, age and service-related medical needs.
Ironically, the primary target of the lawsuit — filed July 13 in U.S. District Court for the district of Oregon — is Leslie Hammer — a nationally recognized researcher on employee supports and veteran reintegration to the workforce.
Hammer leads the university's Occupational Health Psychology program. Her body of research is mostly dedicated to work-life balance and military veterans' success in civilian employment.
Hammer was the principal investigator for SERVe, a $5 million U.S. Department of Defense-funded five-year study of employment conditions and opportunities for veterans. SERVe stands for Study for Employment Retention of Veterans.
But a doctoral student who was recruited for and worked on the study now says that his status as a veteran became a liability in the program.
Former psychology technician Gilbert Brady laid out a saga of alleged wrongs in a 43-page complaint written by his Beaverton-based employment attorney, David Griggs.
Brady, according to the complaint, helped write the grant application for SERVe over the summer of 2011. 2, 2017, he had filed a complaint with PSU's Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion about the treatment he says he received from Hammer and others. He was dismissed from the program in July 2017, though as late as October 2017 he said he had not received an explanation for his dismissal.
From the start, Brady says he was belittled and denigrated by Hammer, even publicly. After a friend and fellow older male veteran recounted harsh treatment he said he received from Hammer, Brady resolved early on to keep a journal of events.
The result, Brady argued, was a litany of harsh judgments of his work ethic and competence, expectations of free labor, age discrimination, gender discrimination, deprivation of due process and retaliation for discovering errors in the SERVe data and methodology, among other complaints.
Portland State University spokesman Ken Ma declined comment on the case or any related facts. Hammer also declined to comment.
Ma pointed out that the university, which actually was started as a place of study for World War II veterans, has a Veterans Resource Center and other supports for its students. The average PSU student is 27 years old and attracts many returning students.
Brady is now 50. He served in Iraq and as a reservist with the Oregon Army National Guard. He served for eight years and was honorably discharged in 2016, according to the complaint.
He described an episode in his lawsuit where his graduate instructor nearly rejected his request for more time to complete an assignment, telling him: "You can't be in the military and be doing something like going to graduate school!," according to the court filing.
Hammer is not the only person Brady takes issue with. The lawsuit also names Margaret Everett, PSU's interim provost and vice president for academic affairs; Charlotte Fritz, associate professor in industrial/organizational psychology; Ellen Skinner, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychology; Todd Bodner, a professor of quantitative psychology; Krista Brockwood, a project manager and senior researcher; Liu-Qin Yang, an associate professor; Larry Martinez, an associate professor; and Jennifer Dimoff, an assistant professor. The suit also lists 25 other unnamed employees.
Brady argues that Hammer effectively shut him out of the program, using gossip and opinion in her evaluation of his performance, and favoring "new" and younger graduate students.
"Documentary evidence shows that at the same time Hammer sought to use plaintiff's intellectual work product, Hammer also colluded with other faculty to have plaintiff dismissed without cause from plaintiff's area of study and the graduate program," reads the lawsuit.
According to PSU's website, Hammer is not accepting doctoral students for the 2018-19 academic year.
In the upcoming edition of the Journal of Vocational Behavior, she has co-authored a paper finding that older workers are more stressed than younger workers when employers don't offer enough resources.
UPDATE (8/3/18): Brady's student status was updated based on new documentation.