File photo / 2005 Kevin Wilson, shown coaching the Southern Oregon University women’s basketball team, is seeking unspecified monetary damages in connection with his firing in 2005.

SOU sanctioned for shredding personnel files

A federal judge has agreed with a fired women's basketball coach that Southern Oregon University wrongly shredded the file of the school's investigation, undermining his case against SOU and making it difficult to cross-examine witnesses.

The judge on Tuesday sanctioned SOU in the case and the jury hearing the matter will be instructed that they may draw "adverse inference" from the university's actions; in other words they can conclude that school staff destroyed the through "either bad faith or gross negligence."

U.S. District Judge Owen Panner declined to award a default judgment in favor of former coach Kevin Wilson, whose attorneys have been granted two weeks to draft jury instructions.

In his order, Panner noted that Wilson on April 12, 2005, asked for files on the investigation and that, even though she was aware of a pending grievance, Vice President of Student Affairs Diane Brimmer, in May or June of 2005, "shredded all of her notes regarding the investigation," including documentation regarding who made complaints and the contents of those complaints, a log of who Brimmer spoke with during the investigation, and notes of interviews.

Brimmer is no longer with SOU. Provost Earl Potter said the university is unable to comment on a matter in litigation. The school's attorney, Kenneth Crowley of the Oregon Department of Justice, could not be reached Friday. Wilson is now coaching high school basketball in Milford, Utah.

The SOU investigation began in November 2004, after four players, Lindsey Aitchison, Robyn Ward, Jenna Ayers and Emily Brough, wrote a five-page letter to athletic and university officials complaining of harsh treatment from Wilson. All four left the team.

In a Mail Tribune story at the time, junior team captain Jamie Stanford said Wilson was "a real rude, in-your-face guy."

During depositions of the case, wrote Panner, "Without her notes, Dr. Brimmer could not recall specifics surrounding the allegations "¦ the contents of discussions she had with other University officials "¦ which parents she talked with and what was said "¦ who made complaints and what the complaints were "¦ or what positive things were said about plaintiff (Wilson)."

Wilson coached SOU women's basketball from 2001 to 2005, winning Cascade Conference championships in his first two years. He was named conference coach of the year in 2003. But in his last year, he won only four games and ended his SOU tenure with a 53-64 record.

The judge's order noted that Wilson needed the investigation file to back up his allegation that "the investigation was an intentional act to cause plaintiff emotional distress and that it exceeded the bounds of socially tolerable behavior."

Wilson, represented by Frohnmayer, Deatherage, et. al. of Medford, contends that he was ostracized in the department and investigated without due process because he protested unequal treatment of women's athletics compared to men's, according to the complaint.

His lawyer, Tracy McGovern, said in a news release, "Hopefully this court's decision will "¦ create sufficient safeguards for the retention of its employees' records, especially their investigative files. Up until this point, SOU has not formally recognized the seriousness of their actions, going as far as accusing our request for sanctions as a ploy to waste the court's time."

Wilson's complaint alleges that SOU caused him severe emotional distress and anxiety because it "published damaging information to third parties, prolonged a simple investigation for over four months, and forced plaintiff to abandon his position as teacher and coach in the midst of a school term."

Wilson charges SOU fired him in less than the six-month notice period, "created the implication that plaintiff was immoral," didn't state a cause and impaired his earning capacity.

In the complaint, Wilson said he "suffered emotional distress, humiliation, loss of reputation and upset." He is seeking unspecified money damages.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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