School daze

National groups target Quincy college

In a town as small as Quincy, at a school as small as Feather River College, it’s hard to keep the gossip mill quiet. But it’s not likely, in such a small community, that gossip—or the truth behind it—will go beyond the local newspaper. So when two national organizations recently took interest in the drama happening in little Quincy, what was a small deal is now a pretty big one.

The drama at FRC started almost two years ago, when a male faculty member was accused of drinking with and sexually abusing high school- and college-aged girls during a summer program. The faculty member, Jason Muñoz, now no longer employed at the school, was charged with six misdemeanors. He plea-bargained and was found guilty of driving under the influence and contributing to the delinquency of minors.

But that’s not even the juicy part of the story.

The two faculty members who say they caught Muñoz in the act—Michelle Jaureguito and Paul Thein—turned him in to the college’s president, Susan Carroll, and human resources director, Cameron Abbott, as well as the authorities.

Shortly thereafter, then-Upward Bound Director Jaureguito says she became the target of relentless harassment and was forced to resign. Around the same time, the Board of Trustees voted not to renew Thein’s contract—he was the vice president of student services, athletic director and dean of students—even though he’d been with the school for seven years.

Both Jaureguito and Thein believe they became targets as retaliation for turning in their colleague, the son of a prominent FRC professor, Joseph Muñoz. Now they’re suing to be reinstated—and to yank out of office those they believe guilty of wrongdoing.

“We were eyewitnesses to the deal and we were sold out,” Thein said by phone. “This is the most evil thing I’ve ever seen happen in education.”

To add another layer to the FRC story, a third former faculty member, Laurel Wartluft, also is suing the school—over Title IX violations. After a year of employment as the women’s basketball coach, she was terminated—the day before the team’s first game of the season.

First off, she believes she was discriminated against for being a lesbian. Second, she claims she wasn’t treated equally to the male coaches, three of whom held full-time, tenured positions.

Wartluft, with the support of then-Athletic Director Thein, alerted the college administration as well as its Budget Committee to the fact that by not offering equal opportunities to male and female coaches, they were violating Title IX. Thein, in a separate lawsuit, also brings forth the Title IX issues, saying that his non-renewal was partly retaliation for his trying to bring the school into compliance.

The lawsuits aren’t really new news, though the hearing dates have been postponed more than once. The new news is that two organizations—the American Association of University Women and the California chapter of the National Organization for Women—are backing these cases.

“No one should lose their job for standing up for what’s right,” said Linda Joplin, chairwoman of NOW’s Athletic Equity Committee. “One of the things that we do is to stand up for individuals who have been wronged.”

As things stand now, all three of the plaintiffs are in a bit of a rough spot.

Thein is still without a job. He says the non-renewal of his contract is like a black mark on his reputation. He is still living in Quincy, has a toddler, and is going through a divorce.

Jaureguito is in the same boat as far as her marriage is concerned, though she has found employment—she is working at Washington State University as the director of recruitment.

Wartluft moved back to Ohio—she coached at Kent State before moving to Quincy—and is now coaching basketball at a small Catholic college. She is living with her parents.

All three, who collectively have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into legal bills, are waiting for the hearing in front of the California State Personnel Board, which has the power both to reinstate and terminate FRC employees.

Their hearing has been rescheduled due to a change in counsel for FRC, but is now set for two weeks starting in July. The plaintiffs hope the board will oust Carroll, Abbott and Joseph Muñoz, along with a few others. Neither Carroll nor Abbott returned phone calls for comment.

The Title IX cases will go before a federal court next April.

The AAUW, based in New York, has decided to donate $5,000 to each of the three plaintiffs. California NOW, out of Sacramento, has not donated money, but instead hopes to help spread the word.

“What our role can be, and I hope it is very helpful, is to get the message to the board that they had a role in how all of this transpired and they are the ones who, one way or another, are going to have to fix it,” Joplin said. “If they thought that the three individuals were just going to go away quietly and not object to how they’ve been treated, and the whole thing would blow over in this very small community of Quincy, they are very mistaken.”