By Renee Flannery, Daily Journal – February 10, 2017 – A former chief campus counsel at UC Riverside won a $2.5 million verdict when a Riverside County Superior Court jury found she was wrongfully terminated for reporting gender discrimination at the school.
Michele Coyle, who worked as UC Riverside chief counsel from 2006 to 2012, claimed she and other women were discriminated against by the university’s former executive vice chancellor and provost, Dallas M. Rabenstein.
According to Coyle, when she demanded UC regents investigate the issue, she was fired. Coyle v. Regents of the University of California, RIC1503362 (Riverside Super. Ct., filed March 19, 2015).
“We had to prove our client had reported issues of gender discrimination,” Coyle’s attorney, J. Mira Hashmall of Miller Barondess LLP said after Tuesday’s verdict. “Despite these issues, [the regents] never did a single investigation. . . . Instead, they chose to terminate her, they never looked into those claims.”
Coyle alleged Rabenstein based faulty promotion and pay decisions on his personal preference for male employees. She also claimed Rabenstein refused to accommodate women with young children in the workplace, referred to women who requested salary adjustments as “overly aggressive,” and expressed in public and in department meetings his desire to rid the campus of any remaining senior female administrators appointed by his female predecessor.
Coyle said she reported the behavior to University of California General Counsel Charles Robinson and former UC Riverside chancellor Tim White. Rather than investigate the claims, said Coyle, Robinson and White fired her.
Coyle was terminated in October 2012, one week before an audit by The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs of UC Riverside was set to determine whether the university complied with its state and federal obligations to prohibit discrimination, retaliation and harassment on campus, Hashmall said.
The jury agreed the defendants violated California labor law and the Fair Employment Housing Act, awarding Coyle $783,084 in past lost earnings, $1,644,410 in future lost earnings, and $72,506 in non-economic damages. Coyle’s complaint alleged damages in excess of $10 million.
The University of California Office of the President said in a statement that it was “disappointed to learn of the jury verdict.
“The university vehemently denies the allegations of retaliation made in the lawsuit and is considering all legal options, including an appeal.”
Hashmall said she and co-counsel Casey B. Pearlman, also of Miller Barondess LLP, argued to the jury that their “client is an accomplished attorney with years of experience. . . . She was seeking investigations which are required under law and [the regents] did nothing.”
The regents were represented by Nancy J. Sheehan, of Porter Scott APC, who was unable to be reached for comment. Riverside County Superior Court Judge John W. Vineyard oversaw the seven-week trial.
“The jury found that the University of California failed to live up to its duty to protect individuals from gender discrimination and retaliation,” Hashmall said. “The UC system has an obligation to protect civil rights, and this behavior is not going to be tolerated. . . . [We] are very proud of the work the jury did to reach its findings.”