A lawsuit filed Tuesday by the ousted executive director of Jefferson Public Radio alleges Southern Oregon University and the Oregon University System engaged in blacklisting and civil rights violations.
Ron Kramer, who ran JPR for 37 years, specifically accuses SOU President Mary Cullinan and George Pernsteiner, outgoing chancellor with the Office of Higher Education, with violating his rights in the manner in which they terminated his employment contract. The lawsuit was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court and seeks $1,375,000 in damages.
"They kicked Ron to the curb," said Richard Yugler, a Portland attorney representing Kramer. "The community has lost someone who has delivered from year to year for the citizens of Southern Oregon."
Kramer was terminated as executive director of JPR and the JPR Foundation on June 30, 2012, after the university system determined it was a conflict for him to hold both positions.
The lawsuit maintains Kramer's dual roles were part of a contractual obligation related to his employment with the university that had been previously approved by the university system, SOU and the chancellor's office.
After terminating Kramer, SOU then named Paul Westhelle to take on the same dual roles that the university objected to in the first place, according to the lawsuit. Westhelle continues to be executive director of both the foundation and JPR. The university said at the time Westhelle was selected in late June that his role with the foundation would be temporary.
Similar dual duties also occur at four universities throughout the state, the lawsuit states. It notes that Sylvia Kelly, who is vice president for development for SOU, is also the executive director of the SOU Foundation.
The lawsuit describes how Kramer discussed staying on as executive director of the JPR Foundation but was prevented from doing so by the university.
The suit alleges that Cullinan and SOU "unlawfully blacklisted Kramer" and created a binding settlement agreement "with intent and for purpose of preventing Kramer from engaging in or securing employment, or other employment from JPR Foundation, in violation of ORS 659.805(1)."
On Feb. 23, 2012, Cullinan praised Kramer's work and assured him his employment remained secure, according to the lawsuit.
However, the suit contends, five days later, on Feb. 28, 2012, SOU officials proposed to the JPR Foundation board that Kramer should voluntarily resign from JPR and work solely for the foundation to remove the conflict.
The dispute between the university and JPR began after the JPR Foundation purchased the Holly Theatre in Medford with the hopes of turning it into a performing arts center. The Holly project was similar to an effort in Redding, Calif., where the foundation restored the Cascade Theatre.
The foundation also hoped to build new headquarters for the radio station at a 10th Street property in Medford.
The university system determined the projects posed a fundraising threat to SOU's own fundraising efforts and questioned whether operating theaters was in line with the mission of the public radio station.
After Kramer's termination, a university grievance committee determined that Cullinan's notice of termination didn't comply with SOU policies, according to the suit. The grievance committee recommended SOU provide Kramer with salary and benefits for 90 days, ending Sept. 29, 2012, the suit says. Kramer said Wednesday he would not discuss particulars of the case.
"About the only comment I could/would make is that blacklisting is a crime and the truth of what occurred will come out in court, as it should," Kramer wrote in an email response.
A spokesman for the chancellor's office could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Jim Beaver, spokesman for SOU, said the university couldn't make a comment on the lawsuit because it hadn't had sufficient time to review it.
State Sen. Alan Bates, a Medford Democrat, helped negotiate a mediation effort between the university and the JPR Foundation board of directors, which was threatened with legal action by the university system.
Bates said Wednesday the settlement agreement should not have prevented Kramer from working for the foundation.
"I think it's inappropriate that he is being barred from the foundation," he said.
Bates said he is still puzzled why the university has allowed the new executive director of JPR to hold the same dual duties that Kramer held previously.
"It is not OK for Kramer to do this, but it's OK for this guy to do it?" Bates said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.