After over two and half years of litigation, two University of Oregon professors have agreed to a settlement with the school for an age discrimination lawsuit.
75-year-old Warren Gast and 72-year-old Hans Joachim Neis are professors at UO Portland. They filed a lawsuit after Christoph Lindner, the College of Design dean at the time, tried to move the oldest professors to the Eugene campus in May 2017.
Employment lawyer Craig Crispin represents professors Gast and Neis. He said they fought for the concept that “professors at the University of Oregon are not cattle who can just be moved from one pasture to another.”
In the case of Gast, he has lived in the Oregon metropolitan area for over 25 years, with his home and life connected to the Portland community.
“It's not like they're history professors and they're just sitting around anywhere and can do their job,” said Crispin. “They work in the community. That's how they do their research.”
In a press release from Crispin Employment Law PC, Gast says the principles they stood for were more than the monetary value of the settlement.
According to the professor’s complaints, in June 1994, Gast entered a contract stating he would be based in Portland. When he was promoted to Associate Professor of Architecture in 1997, he was also granted Indefinite Tenure by the university. Similarly, Neis entered a contract with UO Portland in June 2000, stating his primary teaching responsibilities will be on the Portland campus, and only occasional teaching on the Eugene campus.
“So the principal was one of the ability—or inability—of the university to transfer [professors] among different locations, without proper justification,” said Crispin.
In 2017, Lindner created and handpicked members for a Portland evaluation committee, who Crispin believes was not an unbiased group. Then, Crispin says the committee forced Gast and Neis to apply for their current positions, with less than a month’s notice.
“We felt the outcome was preordained by the process that was selected and the people that were selected to make the decision,” said Crispin.
After this, the professors took their first step to filing a court lawsuit. Both Gast and Neis filed administrative complaints in July 2017 with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Civil Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In March 2018, Neis filed a second administrative complaint, alleging retaliation for reporting age discrimination other statutory violations.
Meanwhile, the professors have been commuting back and forth to Eugene since January 2018.
Per the settlement agreement, UO will pay $170,000. In the professor’s original complaints, they asked for compensation for economic damages and value of time required to travel from Portland to Eugene, continuing damage to reputation and professional standing, and loss of research opportunities and research progress.
The professors also now have a two-year contact with UO Portland. Gast and Neis will also have the right to sue for a breach of contract if the university tries to remove them from the Portland campus in the future.
Although a settlement has been reached, the case is still ongoing. Employment Lawyer Crispin confirmed that the lawsuit has not been resolved because there has not been a determination of whether or not UO had the right to transfer the professors under UO policies and the professor’s contracts.
Crispin said the campus formally implemented a policy that allowed them to transfer professors from one location to another. But the policy was created before the school had more than one campus.
“So what that policy meant was they had the right to move a professor—as an example—from one building to another—in essence,” said Crispin. “It was not contemplated under that particular policy that there'd be separate campuses. And that policy, as it stands right now, has not been overturned, has not been fully interpreted or mitigated to determine what their rights are under that policy.”
The professor’s next collective bargaining agreement will be in January to determine whether or not UO Portland had the right to transfer the professors.