Former Ashlander sues OIT

A former Ashland resident is suing the Oregon Institute of Technology for $460,000, alleging the school violated her federal and state workers' rights and discriminated against her age and a disability she developed after being diagnosed with thyroid autoimmune disease.

Gail D. Michael, 56, OIT's former acquisitions administrator who now lives in Albany, filed the complaint June 3 in U.S. District Court in Eugene.

Her lawyer, John Burgess of Salem, said he would not elaborate on the complaint and that Michael declined to be interviewed.

The university denies all of Michael's allegations in documents filed with the court.

Ron McCutcheon, OIT director of human resources, did not return telephone messages left June 28 and Monday at his office in Klamath Falls.

OIT hired Michael in January 2009, nearly two years before she was diagnosed with the disease in about October 2010, according to the complaint.

Prior to filing the lawsuit, which has been transferred to the federal court in Medford, Michael filed complaints against OIT with the Oregon State Bureau of Labor and Industries and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Michael alleges the university hired a new employee to take over her position within a week of her being granted 12 weeks of medical leave, between October 2010 and January 2011.

Upon Michael's return, McCutcheon allegedly told Michael that the university preferred the new employee to her, and that many of her responsibilities had been permanently transferred.

According to the complaint, Michael was left with "essentially nothing to do while at work." In January 2011, Michael asked a supervisor whether the university was planning to terminate her position, to which the supervisor responded, "plan on it," the complaint states.

Around the same time, Michael asked another supervisor for a reduction in hours because her disease caused her extreme pain if seated for long periods of time, but the university refused, "despite the fact that the small amount of work she was doing did not require her to remain at work for long hours," the complaint states.

That month, Michael was told she was going to be laid off in six months because "her position was redundant," so she resigned.

According to OIT's answer to the complaint, the move to lay off Michael "was taken for legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory business reasons." The university also alleges that Michael "makes allegations in her complaint that she knows are untrue," and "is not entitled to the relief she requests."

Michael alleges the university violated the federal Family Medical Leave Act and the Oregon Family Leave Act by failing to reinstate her position upon returning from medical leave. She also alleges OIT violated each policy by retaliating against her for taking medical leave by taking "adverse employment actions" against her.

Michael also alleges the university discriminated against her disability by not providing reasonable accommodations to relieve the pain she experienced from being seated for long periods of time. She also alleges the university discriminated against her age by treating her differently than younger employees.

No trial date has been set, but both parties are scheduled to meet with Judge Mark D. Clarke on July 9.

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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