EOU keeping options open

November 06, 2013 09:49 am

Eastern ponders appeal after professor wins $140,000 in lawsuit

Eastern Oregon University officials are keeping their options open after the university recently lost a judgement in a lawsuit filed by a professor at a satellite campus who claimed she had been discriminated against.

Rosemary Siring, an education professor who worked in Eastern Oregon University’s satellite teacher education program in Gresham, won a $140,000 judgment on Oct. 21 after a jury concluded Eastern officials discriminated when they fired her.

Siring won the money after the federal jury in Portland concluded she was regarded by her employer as having a disability and fired for conduct related to that perceived disability, said her lawyer, Craig Crispin.

EOU President Bob Davies said on Tuesday that Eastern may appeal the verdict. 

“While the jury did find in favor of the plaintiff on one of the multiple claims, we are evaluating this specific verdict and assessing our next steps, which may include an appeal,” Davies said.

The Eastern president does not believe that there was deliberate discrimination.

“Because the jury found in favor of Eastern on a majority of the claims, it is clear that those representing Eastern in this case acted without discriminatory intent,” said Davies, who added that he appreciated the work of EOU’s legal team and all those who testified on behalf of Eastern.

Siring was hired away from a tenured job at Montana State University in 2006 to teach prospective teachers how to teach reading and to help supervise them during student teaching stints in Portland- and Gresham-area schools.

She has a condition, observed by her family and her students but not fully understood by doctors, that causes her to sometimes slur her words and become slightly disoriented when under stress, Crispin said. She also takes prescription medication for pain that can affect her, he said.

Although she was four years into a five-year process to gain tenure as an education professor at Eastern, and her evaluations had generally been positive, her bosses moved to fire her after four years, her lawsuit said. Siring sued, believing her firing was based on her age, 65 at the time she was fired, and in retaliation for her complaints about age discrimination, Crispin said.

After she sued, she discovered she had been fired in large part because her supervisor in Gresham, Betsy Costi, believed her slurred speech and disorientation were signs she was drunk, Crispin said. Siring, who was not drunk, was not told her supervisors thought she was under the influence on the job, he said.

The jury decided that she was not discriminated against because of her age or in retaliation for her complaints. But they did decide that her employer regarded her as disabled and fired her for reasons related to the perceived disabilities, Crispin said.

They awarded Siring $65,000 in back pay and $75,000 in damages, he said. The possible awarding of attorney fees and whether she should be reinstated have yet to come before the court, he said.

Eastern was represented by Miller Nash attorneys Michael Porter and Cody Elliott.

U.S. district court judge Michael Simon presided at the five-day trial.

— Observer reporter Dick Mason and Oregonian reporter Bryan Denson contributed to this report.