Court Case: Thein v. Feather River Community College

Case adopted 05/07

Case Update (10/12):
On October 19, 2010, the State Personnel Board officially dismissed the whistleblower complaints. Feather River Community College filed a motion to dismiss the federal case and the plaintiff and lawyer filed an appeal.

It is now expected that Thein will win the appeal. In mid-January 2012, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal issued an opinion in Mize-Kurzman v. Marin Community College District that says whether or not a whistle blower is acting for public, private or personal reasons is irrelevant. This means the federal cases that the SPB cited to dismiss the Feather River case do not apply.

Case History

Paul Thein, former Vice President of Student Services, Athletic Director and Dean of Students at Feather River Community College, sued the university for retaliation for complaining of sex discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Thein began his employment at Feather River Community College in July 1999. During his seven year tenure at the college, Thein served as the Vice President of Student Services and Institutional Development, Athletic Director, and Dean of Students. He was responsible for building up the athletic department and brought in millions of dollars in federal grants for the college.

Thein alleges that in the beginning of June 2005, he began to voice concern that the athletic department was not in compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. He claims that he recommended making the women’s basketball coach a full-time tenure position and advocated hiring someone with experience in Title IX compliance to that position. In July 2005, the college’s federal grant director, Jaureguito, contacted Thein, her boss, to report she had received a call about inappropriate conduct by a staff member. Jaureguito and Thein responded to the call and went out to the staff member’s home where they allegedly witnessed him consuming alcohol with underage students. Other students reported that night to Thein and Jaureguito that the faculty member sexually harassed them that evening including inappropriately touching them and making sexual comments.

Thein and Jaureguito reported the incident to the college president and Thein urged the college president to contact the authorities. The next day they provided testimony to law enforcement. According to Thein, the college president warned them to “protect themselves” from possible retaliation from the staff member’s father, who was a senior faculty member at the college. The president allegedly refused to join Thein in a phone call or to give Thein permission to contact the federal Department of Education about the incident even though the faculty member was being paid by a grant through the Department of Education.

After having reported the incident, Thein claims that he experienced ridicule, threats, and interference with his efforts to bring the college into compliance with Title IX. The staff member’s father instituted a meritless grievance against Thein with the union. Thein reported the intimidation to the college president, then when nothing changed he reported it to the authorities. Thein complained to the human resources director about the father’s attempts to derail the hiring of the new women’s basketball coach and about sex discrimination against the new women’s basketball coach.

In September, Thein was informed that his employment contract would not be renewed for the following year. Two days later he allegedly found on his office chair an envelope containing a negative evaluation of his job performance. This was the first negative evaluation he had received. In November, Thein asserts that he was informed he was not allowed to continue his job duties and was put on administrative leave until his contract ended in June 2006.

In August 2006, Thein filed a suit against the college in U.S. District Court Eastern District of California.

In the spring of 2008, the lawyers submitted closing and reply briefs to the California State Personnel Board from the Nov. 2007 trial. The judge in the State Personnel Board hearings was expected to submit a decision to the California State Personnel Board by March 2009.

The judge in the State Personnel Board hearings submitted a decision to the California State Personnel Board in August 2009, ruling in favor of all three plaintiffs; including reinstatement, back pay, and damages. The State Personnel Board rejected the judges’ decision, however, and the judge will have to present an oral argument to the board by early November 2009. Thein’s jury trial has been rescheduled (again) to July 20, 2010.

Key Case Issues

Retaliation for complaining of sex discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1976.