Three University of Oregon professors associated with the university’s Portland architecture program are suing UO and College of Design Dean Christoph Lindner for just under $4.3 million, alleging that Lindner and the university engaged in age discrimination and retaliation as well as breach of contract, according to court documents.
Professors Warren Gerald Gast, Hans Joachim Neis and Donald Genasci, born in 1944, 1947 and 1938, respectively, all worked as architecture professors at the UO architecture program in Portland. According to the individual complaints filed by the professors, they “were the oldest three faculty members in the Portland Architecture program in 2017 and 2018.”
The complaints say that the three professors received notices in May 2017 from Lindner notifying them that they would be relocated from Portland to the UO’s Eugene campus. The two other Portland architecture faculty members, who were under 60-years-old, were not asked to leave, according to the complaints.
All three professors worked for the university and lived in Multnomah county, according to the complaints. In Gast’s case, his complaint says, he signed a contract with the university in 1994 that said he “will be based in Portland” but will travel to Eugene for certain activities. Gast’s complaint says that the contract has not been modified since 1994 and that Gast received a promotion and indefinite tenure in 1997.
Neis’ complaint says that he entered into a contract with the university in June 2000 and that the contract is still valid today. According to the complaint, one of the terms of the contract says that Neis’ “primary teaching responsibilities will be in the Portland Architecture Program,” but he may also have to sometimes travel to Eugene.
Genasci, who helped found Portland’s architecture program in the 1980s, was forced to resign in January 2018, according to his complaint. Genasci’s complaint makes no mention of a breach of contract and only claims age discrimination.
Neis and and Gast previously filed complaints alleging age discrimination in July 2017 with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, alleging that the university engaged in age discrimination.
The complaints say that Lindner wanted the reassignment because the Portland program “needed ‘new energy’” and was “stale.” According to the complaints, Lindner “was motivated by his desire for ‘new blood’” and that the “‘reassignment’ had ‘nothing to do with budget.’”
The university disagrees with the claims made in the lawsuits, according to an email statement from UO spokeswoman Molly Blancett.
“As noted in their complaints, they filed similar claims with the Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI), and those claims were dismissed,” Blancett wrote on Friday. “In light of the pending litigation, we are unable to provide additional information at this time but will address the allegations in the court proceedings.”
The Emerald has not yet confirmed whether BOLI dismissed the complaints.
While the complaints say that Lindner wanted the professors to move, he was unsuccessful as the university’s provost overturned the reassignments for “procedural reasons.” Following the provost’s decision, the complaints say that Lindner and the university “created a process” known as the “Portland Evaluation Committee,” that let Lindner “selectively appoint decision makers” to ensure that the professors could not stay in Portland.
“The new ‘committee’ worked to effectuate defendant Lindner’s original transfer of the three oldest faculty members to Eugene,” the complaints say.
The university then informed Gast and Neis that they must apply for their instructing role at the Portland campus, which was never required previously, according to the complaints. The university gave Gast and Neis two weeks to submit information about their “teaching history, research accomplishments and service records.”
The complaints say both professors requested extensions to provide the documentation, but UO denied the request and granted a five-day extension instead.
The professors are seeking economic damages for repeated travel from Portland to Eugene, future lost economic damages for harm to professional standing and noneconomic damages for loss of research opportunities, according to the complaints.
All three professors are being represented by Portland-based attorney Craig Crispin, who practices employment law.
The Emerald will continue to report on this lawsuit as it develops.