In January 2023, Former Director of Residence Life Clea Taylor, who filed a lawsuit against Reed in June 2022 alleging disability discrimination and retaliation, reached an out-of-court settlement with the College. Taylor’s suit claimed that Reed discriminated against her by refusing her medical accommodation requests for remote work, and that they had retaliated against her for her requests by placing her on indefinite unpaid leave against her will, effectively taking her job away without actually firing her. According to records obtained by the Quest, the case was dismissed from court following the agreement between the two parties, on March 13.
Speaking with the Quest, Taylor claimed that, in the settlement, Reed paid her approximately a year’s salary — about $70,000 — plus attorney’s fees (the final requested compensation of her suit was $394,000). In exchange, Taylor resigned from the college, withdrew the application for Director of Residence Life which she had submitted in November 2022, and agreed not to apply for another position at Reed for 5 years. Taylor said that the settlement did not include an NDA. At press time, Reed’s lawyers had not yet responded to a request to confirm these details.
Taylor’s lawsuit alleged that the college discriminated against her by refusing her request for a reasonable disability accommodation of remote work. Taylor made this request in December 2021 while on medical leave, when she was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety after experiencing harassment from a student in Fall 2021. The college declined her request, and after a back and forth between Taylor and Reed’s HR Department lasting through mid-March 2022, she was informed that the College would not grant her request and that she would be fired if she did not show up for work in person. Taylor retained counsel, and rather than following through on their threat, the College placed Taylor on indefinite leave against her will, where she remained until her resignation. Taylor did not receive pay during this time, and the college notified her that they would stop covering her insurance at the start of October 2022.
Also in October, Taylor claims that she spoke to her doctor and lawyer about going back to work on campus. She was cleared to do so, and also claims that she notified Reed’s lawyer of her intention to return to work and was not dissuaded from doing so. However, when she returned on October 17, she was asked to leave campus and told that she was “not entitled to reinstatement” as Assistant Director of Residence Life. In an interview with the Quest, Taylor said that she was aggressively told she was not welcome: “I was being treated as someone who needed to be excluded from campus.”
That same day, Taylor applied to the listing for Director of Residence Life on Reed’s website. She was later informed that finalists would be invited to Reed for an interview, though this never happened. After a period of radio silence, Taylor was contacted by Reed’s lawyers about the possibility of going to mediation. Taylor agreed, and in mediation, the parties came to a settlement. Speaking to the Quest, Taylor speculated that Reed’s lawyers reached out about mediation because her decision to apply for Director of Residence Life put the college in a tight spot; either they hired her or chose not to and opened themselves to further litigation.
Taylor shared that the mediation process made her believe that Reed never took her accommodation request seriously. “They were 100% convinced that I wanted to work from home permanently, or had already been job searching,” she said. Taylor shared that she found Reed’s assumption about her intentions painful. Since working in Residence Life is a team effort, “Working from home is actually really not fun.” She said that she only requested the remote work accommodation because she otherwise didn’t know if she would be safe on campus.
According to her suit, Taylor “felt anxious, unsafe, unable to focus at work, and vulnerable” on campus as Reed was investigating the student who harassed her (the harassment took the form of allegations which both Taylor and the College agree to be false; the student, who according to Taylor targeted at least four individuals at Reed, was excluded from campus in January 2022). The suit also cites what Taylor saw as a lack of support from HR and Taylor’s supervisors caused her mental health to worsen: the suit reads, “Given Reed’s constant redirection and callous rejection of her pleas for help, [Taylor] sought guidance from her medical provider.”
Speaking with the Quest, Taylor cited a lack of support and information from the College about the student as a significant cause of distress. She didn’t know if the student was getting the help they needed, and observed that her colleagues knew much more about the situation than she did.
Initially, Taylor told the Quest, she only wanted a remote work accommodation until the student graduated. But after the college did not cooperate with her accommodation request — and after she found out from staff records that the student had been excluded from campus, two months after it had happened, without being informed by HR — she concluded that the college was trying to push her out. This dealt a blow to her mental health, as she says she suddenly felt unwanted in a great job and didn’t know why. Taylor said that, had she been informed of the student’s exclusion from campus, she would have returned to work: “The reason I didn’t go back is because they clearly didn’t want me back.”
The Quest reached out to Director of Human Resources Heather Quinn-Barron with questions about HR’s policies pertaining to placing employees on leave without their permission, informing employees of student exclusions, and engaging in interactive accommodations processes. In response, Quinn-Barron replied, “Reed College does not comment on current or former personnel matters. The college is fully compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, including appropriate accommodations.”
When the Quest clarified that they were asking about overarching college policies, Executive Director of Public Affairs and Communications Sheena McFarland replied on behalf of Quinn-Barron and wrote, “Reed’s leave policies are in place to protect employee’s jobs as defined under federal and state leave laws. In accordance with the law, every individual accommodation must be managed individually. Consequently, we are unable to provide answers that apply broadly. Reed’s policies and procedures are compliant with all federal and/or state leave and accommodation laws.”
With the case settled, Taylor is focusing on her life outside Reed. She shared with the Quest that she’s found a new job, and is considering moving out of Southeast Portland. “I thought I was gonna retire there,” Taylor said, reflecting on Reed. “My kids went to daycare there.” Taylor expressed pain at what happened, but emphasized that she has many fond memories of Reed. Taylor had nothing but praise for her staff coworkers, and her former supervisor Amy Shuckmann. She asserted that the reason she and all her colleagues worked in higher education was because they cared deeply about the student experience.
Nevertheless, Taylor has no plans to work in Higher Ed ever again. “It was shocking how quickly I was treated as an enemy when I was asking for help,” Taylor said. She said that 2022 was “one of the worst years of my life,” and was “baffled” by the antagonistic stance taken towards her by the Administration. Taylor said that the current administration was much colder than she thought previous administrations would have been, and criticized HR and the levels of the college above HR for not prioritizing staff support.
Throughout the interview, Taylor emphasized her concerns with the state of Residence Life, which has not had a director for almost a year now. She was especially incensed on behalf of students, who rely on ResLife for housing. She noted that even when fully staffed, the work that Residence Life does is both extremely difficult and high stakes, and criticized the college for not giving the department the support it needs. To this day, she does not understand why Reed College chose to place her on indefinite leave instead of letting her do her job remotely, especially since their decision to do so was detrimental to ResLife and its ability to serve the student body.
Taylor encouraged students to keep pushing Reed’s administration for accountability when it comes to issues like this. Students, she says, don’t realize that they are often taken more seriously by Administration than staff. “Students deserve better, and should demand better.”
Today, there is still an open listing for Director of Residence Life on jobs.reed.edu. HR Director Heather Quinn-Barron declined to comment on how the HR Department is supporting Residence Life as they work to find a new director.
About the Author
Sabrina is an English major and Quest contributor, and was an editor of the Quest from January to December of 2022. She frequently reports on important breaking stories at Reed. She also sometimes writes movie reviews, and runs the Bird of the Week column which she started in 2020.