Reporting by: McKhelyn Jones & Kimberly Bojorquez
Melissa Frost, UVU’s former Title IX coordinator, is suing the school for wrongful termination in retaliation for whistleblowing on university practices, according to documents filed at the Third District Court in Salt Lake County May 8.
According to Scott Trotter, senior director of communication, UVU leaders took “immediate action” to review her retaliation claim June 9, 2017.
The lawsuit claims that Frost was wrongfully terminated under the “Whistleblowers Act.” Her complaint states that the university terminated her employment in retaliation to her reporting the university’s noncompliance to state and federal laws to school officials.
“University leaders are aware of and disappointed in Ms. Melissa Frost’s allegations. We do not share her views,” said Trotter.
Trotter said the university is unable to comment on all details and said, “UVU is a safe, welcoming, and supportive environment for everyone working and learning on its campuses. This is due, in part, to our firm commitment to Title IX.”
Frost was unavailable to respond immediately for comment.
Her complaint stated that the university failed to act upon violations such as taking sexual assault allegations by gay male students less seriously and receiving late reports of sexual harassment and assault.
Frost also claimed she saw a pattern of “seeing women being required to work harder, longer hours than men” and “that those of ethnicity or who were not LDS, if hired, did not stay at UVU.”
In 2015, Frost claims that she began telling her supervisor about the growing backlog of cases, which she believed to be in violation of state and federal law. She also said that she reported UVU’s lack of compliance to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
“We continue to fully cooperate with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), including having already provided OCR with the investigation report,” said Trotter. “We are confident the actual facts in this matter will prevail and will rebut Ms. Frost’s story.”
Frost also alleges that she received claims of the university engaging in “public waste and misuse” by processing LDS missionary visas while representing UVU abroad, and that a vice president was misusing grant funds.
The complaint also says that UVU General Counsel “specifically requested” to review three cases brought to Frost by three women against “white males in upper management.” According to Frost, this type of review had not been required previously.
According to the lawsuit, UVU never reprimanded or disciplined Frost prior to her departure.
As a backlog of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and sexual assault reports began to grow, Frost claims that UVU was slow to respond to requests for additional resources for the Title IX office to process the cases and was denied administrative support staff in 2014.
In 2015, she believed the “growing backlog of cases” violated state and federal law. Frost said she was also denied a full-time investigator in 2016.
Around the same time in 2016, Frost claimed the UVU Review printed false and misleading information about the EO/AA office, which she believed discouraged people from reporting sexual assaults. She also claimed the student newspaper identified students and employees who reported sexual harassment or assault.
Carrie Laudie, the 2016 editor-in-chief of the the Review, says she stands behind the reporting and that Frost took issue with the newspaper’s police logs section, which features crimes that occur on UVU’s campus. Laudie said that no names or identifying information were ever featured in the police reports.
In 2017, UVU hired an outside Title IX investigator to determine if Frost’s claims were substantiated. Frost said in her complaint that she gave the investigator a 37-page summary detailing “her state and federal law compliance concerns.”
According to Trotter, the investigator concluded that Frost’s claims were “wholly unsubstantiated.”
According to her suit, Frost was “dedicated to helping the office grow to its full potential and ensuring equal opportunity for students and employees,” and often worked 70 to 120 hours a week. The suit claims that in 2015, university President Matthew Holland praised her “collaborative efforts” and “positive effect” in a personal letter.
The suit also describes how she taught 3,500 employees and conducted numerous trainings.
Frost, who worked as the first director of UVU’s Office for Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Title IX (EO/AA) since 2014, departed from the campus November 10, 2017 after going on an unexpected leave of absence in June 2017.
Laura Carlson, formerly UVU’s employee relations manager, was placed in Frost’s job as an interim before being announced as the new Title IX coordinator in February 2018.
Frost appealed the final decision to terminate her employment to Carlson while she was still the relations manager because she thought the determination was biased against her. According to Frost’s complaint, Carlson “had provided much of the negative information regarding Student Affairs, a Vice President’s unethical conduct in violation of the Utah Public Officers’ and Employees Act, and discrimination…”
In the complaint, Frost says that she was treated differently than “at least four other UVU Directors and a Vice President who were either placed on a Corrective Action plan or who were demoted or transferred rather than terminated for performance or conduct issues.”
According to court documents, Frost was suspended, then fired for “a pattern of failure to address discrimination and sexual harassment on campus.”