Amendments to lawsuit allege “Constructive Termination” and Further Retaliation by Reed College
Residence Life Director Clea Taylor, who filed a lawsuit against Reed College in June alleging disability discrimination and retaliation under the Oregon Family Leave Act, amended her suit on November 18, 2022, to further claim that Reed had broken multiple other Oregon anti-retaliation statues after they “effectively terminated her employment” despite keeping her on as an employee. Taylor has been on unwilling and allegedly-unpaid leave since March, following Reed College’s refusal to grant a disability accommodation request to work remotely; on October 17 she attempted to return to in-person work and was informed that she was “not entitled to reinstatement.”
In the initial June filing of the lawsuit, Taylor alleged that the college had discriminated against her on the basis of disability by refusing to grant her request for a “reasonable accommodation” in the form of remote work. Taylor first requested a remote work accommodation in winter of 2021, citing the pandemic as a precedent for the reasonability of such an accommodation. After an extended back and forth between Taylor and Reed’s HR Department (detailed in further depth in a previous Quest report on the subject, available here), the College ultimately decided that they could not honor Taylor’s accommodation request and informed her that if she did not show up for work in person on March 7, 2022, she would be fired. Taylor retained counsel; the College did not fire her, but placed her on leave without her request, where she remains as of November 18, 2022.
Reed College received a summons to respond to Taylor’s suit on June 10, 2022. That very same day, Taylor states that she was sent an email from Reed HR Director Cypress Williams which is attached in its entirety to an August court filing by Reed College and reads, “We have again reviewed the job responsibilities and we are unable to find reasonable accommodations that would allow you to perform the essential functions of your current Co-Director of Residence Life position. We need to fill that role so we are no longer able to hold that position open for you as we have been doing.” The email goes on to explain that there are a variety of job openings available at Reed and invites Taylor to pursue them.
Taylor first requested accommodations for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), adjustment disorder with anxiety, and panic attacks, which she developed as a result of a series of interactions with a Reed student who harassed her (the student no longer attends Reed). Both she and her medical provider asserted that “even the thought of being present on campus with the student” triggered Taylor’s symptoms. Initially, Taylor allegedly anticipated that she would be able to return to in-person operations by the end of May, however by that point she and her medical provider were still unsure when her condition would improve.
However, the amended November 18 version of Taylor’s suit alleges that in mid-October, Taylor’s condition had improved to the point where her medical provider deemed her ready to return to in-person work at Reed. Taylor claims that, given her understanding that her need for a remote work accommodation was the primary thing keeping her on leave, she notified the College on October 14, 2022 through her counsel that she intended to return to in-person work on October 17, “unless Reed stated otherwise.”
Taylor’s suit says that Reed submitted no objections to her return. However, shortly after reporting for work on October 17 she was allegedly “instructed to leave.” The next day, Taylor claims that she “received a letter from Reed stating that she was not entitled to reinstatement.” The letter encouraged her to apply to other positions at Reed.
Following this notice, Director of Residence Life Clea Taylor applied for the open position of Director of Residence Life. The suit does not clarify whether or not she was accepted to the position, however, Reed is still accepting job applications for ResLife Director via their website and no Director of Residence Life is included on ResLife’s online list of staff. Taylor is still listed as Director of Residence Life on IRIS, and she still seems to have a Reed email.
As Taylor’s lawsuit states, “Although plaintiff has not received a paycheck from Reed since February 2022, Reed continues to consider her an ‘employee’ on a ‘personal leave of absence.’” Reed has also informed Taylor that she is “not entitled to reinstatement” while repeatedly encouraging her to apply to different jobs at the college. Nevertheless, as recently as October 14 Reed College has, in court filings, asserted that “Reed has never terminated [Taylor’s] employment.”
The lawsuit claims, “Based on Reed’s October 18, 2022 letter, [Taylor] now understands that Reed effectively terminated her employment on June 10, 2022, when Reed alleged to have stop ‘holding open’ her position.”
Taylor declined to comment for this piece, citing ongoing litigation. The Quest also reached out to Reed HR Director Cypress Williams, but did not receive a response prior to publication.
On November 18, Taylor amended her lawsuit to change what had previously been a complaint of “Discriminatory Adverse Employment Action” to one of “Constructive Termination” under the same Oregon statue barring Disability Discrimination; constructive termination describes situations where an employee is forced to resign from a position due to coercion or hostility by their employer. Additionally, the amended suit includes an entirely new third claim for relief, alleging that violated Oregon anti-retaliation statues, specifically accusing the College of “Retaliation for Opposing Unlawful Practices,” and “Retaliation for Whistleblowing,” as well as accusing them of discriminating against her for exercising the rights given to her by Oregon’s disability protection laws.
In a recent October 14 court filing, Reed College presented for admission into evidence two documents from Taylor’s medical provider. The first, a questionnaire given to her provider by the College and returned on May 4, 2022, reiterated that Taylor’s PTSD and anxiety would prevent her from going into work for an unknown period of time, and specifically pointed out the responsibilities to “oversee front desk operations” and give “indirect supervision of the resident director team” as duties of “the office in which Clea has worked” that she would be unable to perform. Taylor’s provider pointed out work-from-home and avoidance of “one-on-one interactions” as “reasonable accommodations.”
The form — which was sent to Taylor’s provider on April 11, 2022, also states, “Clea has been on leave and previously advised she could return to work in May 2022. We are seeking additional information and clarification about her ability to perform the essential functions of her current position and/or other positions or roles within the Student Life Office.”
According to Taylor’s suit, the College sent Taylor a communication on May 18, 2022 in which they claimed that they could not accommodate her remote work request and that they had deemed Taylor “unable to perform the necessary and essential functions of [her] current position.” Allegedly, in this communication, the College suggested that Taylor look into “current staff openings” at Reed as “next steps in the process.” Taylor alleges that in response to this communication she “insisted that she be permitted to temporarily work from home and provided with back pay for the time she was wrongly placed on leave.”
The other document from Taylor’s medical provider is a doctor’s note which assesses Taylor’s ability to perform her job responsibilities, sent to the College on June 3, 2022. It asserts that Taylor is able to perform all the duties of her job provided that they are done so remotely, reiterates the recommendation that Taylor avoid 1-1 meetings with students, and reasserts that the necessary duration of such accommodations is “currently unknown.” This note was sent to the College the same day that Taylor filed her lawsuit against them. A week later, on the same date that the College was notified of the lawsuit, they provided Taylor their email response to the doctors note, stating that they could not find “reasonable accommodations,” and that they were “no longer able to hold” her job for her.
While it’s not clear what form of leave Taylor was placed on, Reed’s website notes that staff “are required to use sick pay and then vacation while on all leaves except military leave,” adding, “If you exhaust sick pay and vacation, your leave will be unpaid.” In the case of medical leave, Reed employees are provided “job protection,” which ensures that they will be reinstated into their former positions after extended leave. This job protection, however, generally only lasts 12 weeks, after which an employee “may or may not be reinstated to [their] former position or any other position.” Taylor would have reached this 12 week threshold on approximately May 31, 2022, three days prior to her June 3 filing. It is not clear from Reed’s website what College policies dictate placing staff on leave against their wishes.
Aside from the amended lawsuit and the filing by the College which includes the medical provider’s documents, the only publicly-available filing in the case since the Quest’s previous September report is a Stipulated Order which allowed Taylor to request student files as part of her discovery process, with some caveats. Taylor is suing the College for a prayer amount of $394,000. The case is expected to remain in pre-trial for the foreseeable future.