Title IX, retaliation trials head to Butte County
Almost a year ago, the News & Review reported on three former faculty members at Feather River College who were suing the school for retaliation and Title IX violations.
Those three faculty members, still caught up in the system of justice, have finished their hearings in front of the State Personnel Board and will soon have their case heard in Butte County Superior Court.
It’s been a long road to get to this point.
“I feel a thousand years old,” said Paul Thein, who served as dean of students, vice president of student affairs and athletic director before he lost his contract at the small community college in Quincy in 2005. “It’s a shame. All I wanted to do was work.”
Thein believes that when his contract was not renewed, it was retaliation for two things. The first involved numerous attempts to bring the school into Title IX compliance.
“The women’s programs were viewed as second rate and low quality,” according to the complainants’ post-hearing brief, which was finished two weeks ago (April 2).
Thein was a staunch supporter of women’s basketball coach Laurel Wartluft and, as athletic director, lobbied to make her position a tenure-track one, on par with the male coaches.
A memo from Wartluft to Thein noted, “… it is clear that Feather River College is out of compliance in regard to the percent of female athletes as compared to the student population, and I’m also concerned that additional funds through the college foundation are allocated almost exclusively to the men’s sports programs.”
Thein and Wartluft brought their concerns to the college’s president, Susan Carroll. Her reactions during the meeting led Wartluft to feel like an adversary, rather than someone trying to work toward a common good.
In testimony, Wartluft said, “You get labeled that if you speak up for causes, and Title IX especially, you get labeled as a feminist, you get labeled as being disruptive, and you get labeled as an adversary. And that’s pretty much how I think I was, you know, perceived.”
By the following semester, Thein and Wartluft were determined to comply with the law and presented Carroll with a list of goals to that end. Their suggestions included making an “equal commitment to full-time tenure-track coaches for the women’s programs, an equitable distribution of money from outside fundraising, and institutional controls over all monies spent on athletic programs.”
According to the brief, Thein and Wartluft felt a backdraft from the male coaching staff. Wartluft also felt discriminated against for being a lesbian. An incident over the summer just complicated matters.
In July 2005, Thein and Michele Juareguito, who oversaw the Upward Bound program for disadvantaged high school students, discovered one of their counselors, Jason Muñoz, acting inappropriately with some of the female students as well as resident advisers.
According to the brief, a female FRC residential adviser called Jaureguito at her home late one night. “She told Jaureguito that Jason Muñoz arrived intoxicated, with alcoholic beverages…. He offered the high school students alcohol. He grabbed, fondled and molested two of the female students, ages 16 and 18.” Then he went home, with two high school students in tow.
Juareguito immediately called Thein, and the two went to investigate. At Muñoz’s house, they found “Muñoz intoxicated, clothed only in boxer shorts…. One partially clothed 16-year-old ran and locked herself in the bathroom crying hysterically.
“After they returned to the dorm, [the girls] told Jaureguito and Thein that Jason Muñoz sexually molested them.”
According to the brief, when Human Resources Director Cameron Abbott arrived on campus to deal with the issue, he immediately shut down the Upward Bound program and told the students, even the victims, to pack their bags and leave.
When Carroll was briefed on the incident, she protected Muñoz, the son of prominent, longtime faculty member Joseph Muñoz, rather than protecting the victims, the brief alleges. “Carroll warned Thein and Jaureguito that Jason Muñoz’ father ‘Joseph is vicious, you need to protect yourself’ from possible retaliation.”
The retaliation, it turned out, came from all sides, and resulted in Jaureguito and Wartluft resigning and Thein losing his contract after seven years of service, Thein said during an interview at a coffee shop in Chico two weeks ago. Despite the years of work he’s put into fighting the system, he seemed optimistic, his bright blue eyes twinkling when he spoke.
He was on his way to tell his story to the American Association of University Women, a national organization that donated $5,000 to each of the three plaintiffs last year.
A phone call and request for FRC’s response to the plaintiffs’ brief were not returned by press time. A quote from the Feather River Bulletin indicates the college is standing its ground: “I think the lawsuits against the college are drooling nonsense,” said former FRC Trustee Bob Marshall.
Thein’s lawyer, Michael Terhorst, said he will be in Butte County May 9 to set a trial date. A similar Title IX case at Fresno State ended in December with the plaintiff, a female basketball coach, being awarded $19.1 million.
“I want to win and open up the doors for change in California,” Thein said.