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Higher Education University of California

Jury awards $2.5 million to former UC Riverside counsel fired after alleging sex discrimination by campus officials

Michele Coyle (Miller Barondess LLP)
Michele Coyle (Miller Barondess LLP)

A Riverside Superior Court jury has awarded a former UC Riverside counsel $2.5 million, finding that university officials violated state law when they fired her in retaliation for reporting allegations of sex discrimination against women.

Michele Coyle, who served as chief campus counsel from 2006 to 2012, alleged that she and other women were subjected to "rampant gender discrimination" by Dallas M. Rabenstein, who became UC Riverside executive vice chancellor in 2010.

In a civil complaint filed in March 2015, Coyle alleged that Rabenstein favored men for promotions and salary increases, intentionally misreported data on gender-based salary differences for a federal audit, refused to accommodate women with young children, called some women "biddies" and labeled others who asked for raises as "overly aggressive."

The complaint alleged that Coyle reported the behavior to then UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White, who now heads the Cal State University system, and to UC General Counsel Charles F. Robinson and David Birnbaum, then a UC deputy general counsel. But White and Robinson fired her in October 2012, less than a week before a federal audit was to begin on UC Riverside's compliance with equal opportunity laws, the complaint alleged, because "she opposed their discriminatory practices and refused to whitewash the facts."

The jury found that university officials violated state labor code and the state Fair Employment Housing Act.

In a statement, the University of California said it "vehemently denies the allegations" and is considering an appeal.

"The university remains committed to its longstanding policy prohibiting employees from engaging in discrimination against, harassment of, or retaliating against another UC employee,” the statement said.

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