Lawsuit claims retaliation behind firing at Utah university
By JULIAN HATTEM
May. 16, 2018
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The former head of Utah Valley University's anti-discrimination office has filed a lawsuit accusing the school of unfairly firing her after she raised concerns about potential discrimination against women and non-Mormons.
Melissa Frost in an interview on Tuesday described an environment where harassment allegations were ignored and staffers felt that white, male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were better regarded than other employees.
"There is a perception that white male LDS receive favorable treatment and there is a perception that women are not given the same opportunity," she said.
Frost said she was starting to look at some of those issues when administrators issued a warning to her supervisor, placed her on extended leave and eventually fired her last November. Among other cases, she planned to explore complaints from three women about discrimination, harassment and retaliation from three white men.
In a statement , UVU spokesman Scott Trotter called Frost a "disgruntled former staff employee" who "was terminated for cause, not for what she alleges in her complaint."
The allegations she made in her lawsuit filed last week were "thoroughly investigated by outside, respected, impartial attorney investigators and found to be wholly unsubstantiated," Trotter said. He said the school has strived to create an inclusive culture for staff and students.
Frost had worked as the first ever director of the college's anti-discrimination office at the Orem-based university 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City since 2014.
The U.S. Department of Education has opened a federal discrimination investigation into the school based on a complaint Frost filed with similar concerns last year. That investigation is ongoing. Four other Utah colleges faced similar federal investigations in the last year.
Frost claimed in her lawsuit that she told her supervisor last June about plans to investigate allegations that the university holds higher standards for female employees, pays them less and retains fewer non-Mormon racial minorities. Four days later, she said she was given notice that her job would be terminated.
Previously, Frost had repeatedly expressed concern about a growing backlog of cases "which she believed violated state and federal law," the lawsuit said. In some instances, reports would allegedly not reach her office until a second incident had occurred, the lawsuit added.
She claimed to have raised concerns that the school maintained a "more lax approach" to LGBTQ issues and that other faculty members failed to properly and timely refer students to her office.
She claims she had received only one note of negative feedback about her job performance in her three years of work and was not provided a disciplinary memo sent to her supervisor by a school vice president until she was placed on leave. An investigator brought in to review the situation used "selective facts and witnesses" and ignored evidence supporting her allegations, Frost said.
"My due process was violated," she said Tuesday.
Frost is seeking reinstatement and lost wages or a minimum of $100,000 in monetary damages and other unspecified damages.
She has also filed an internal appeal with the university alleging wrongful termination.
The university is Utah's largest, with more than 37,000 students. About 60 percent of the state's residents are members of the LDS church and the university has said the proportion of its student body belonging to the church is about 75 percent.
Another former employee, Emily Tooy, has said that she was one of the women identified by Frost who made complaints about three white men. Tooy did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Trotter said a separate outside investigator was brought in to review Tooy's claims and found them unsubstantiated. He said the university had women throughout its ranks — including an incoming female president — and has made "significant and intentional efforts" to increase their opportunities.
Frost has a law degree and is representing herself.