EUGENE, OREGON (August 1, 2016) – The University of Oregon (UO) reached an agreement with two former employees of its University Counseling and Testing Center (UCTC), Karen Stokes and Jennifer Morlok, to settle for $425,000 their retaliation claims under Title IX and Oregon’s Whistleblower Law, among others, regarding UO’s handling of confidential records in a student sexual assault case. Stokes and Morlok were represented by Beth Creighton of Creighton & Rose, P.C., and Linda Correia of Correia & Puth, PLLC.
Stokes and Morlok alleged that UO retaliated against them for refusing to hand over a student’s counseling records to university attorneys, ultimately leading to Stokes’ termination and Morlok’s resignation. In May 2014, a UO student (Jane Doe) reported to Eugene police that three basketball players gang-raped her in two off-campus apartments. Doe obtained services from the counseling center regarding her sexual assault. Morlok and Stokes alleged that UCTC Director Shelly Kerr accessed Doe’s counseling records for review by university lawyers without first securing authorization from Doe. The Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners also sanctioned Kerr for her conduct.
In their complaint, Morlok and Stokes alleged UO’s actions violated both Title IX and Oregon’s Whistleblower Law. Title IX is the civil rights statute that ensures students receive an education free from sex discrimination, and Oregon’s Whistleblower Law protects university employees, among others, from retaliation for reporting illegal conduct.
Student sexual assault victims often seek counseling services from on-campus providers, and Karen Stokes and Jennifer Morlok stood up to what they believed was an unethical and illegal intrusion into those confidential records. This resolution sends a message that retaliation is unacceptable when educators and school employees stand up for victim’s rights. University employees must not be discouraged from speaking out against improper, unethical, or illegal conduct in cases of sexual assault or harassment.
Jennifer Morlok and Karen Stokes are hopeful that this case serves as a reminder that educational institutions must protect unauthorized disclosure of those records. They recognize, however, that their case is only a beginning: “We are hopeful that the University of Oregon and other educational institutions will continue to look at internal structures and policies regarding Title IX concerns. These structures and policies must ensure students and staff are protected when they speak up. There is still a lot of work to do.”
Linda Correia said of the resolution, “We all should admire the courage of employees like Karen Stokes and Jennifer Morlok to stand against violations of laws designed to protect students against sex discrimination and sexual assault. University counseling services are crucial to helping students who have confronted the horror of sexual assault, and protecting the confidentiality of those records is essential to guarding students’ rights under Title IX.”
Correia & Puth, PLLC, is a Washington, DC law firm dedicated solely to representing employees and students confronting workplace and school discrimination, retaliation, and unfair treatment. The firm is recognized as a national leader in using Title IX as an effective mechanism for maintaining educational environments free from discrimination and retaliation, and it litigates Title IX cases on behalf of educators and school employees targeted for taking a stand against sex discrimination.