Why did the University of Oregon pay a top Los Angeles law firm $60,000 earlier this year to investigate behavior by a faculty member occurring before that person got hired?
That’s the question raised by a contract between the UO and L.A.’s Munger, Tolles & Olson (MTO), a powerhouse firm whose alums include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The contract was obtained by Eugene Weekly in response to a public records request.
The agreement, dated Feb. 25, specifies that MTO will conduct an “independent investigation” into complaints made against a person whose name was blacked out before the record was released. The investigation, it says, comes “at the direction of the Chair of the University’s Board of Trustees,” UO alum and businessman Chuck Lillis.
The name of the complainant is also redacted.
The contract suggests the complaint may be about untoward sexual behavior; it mentions “the University’s disclosure obligations concerning this matter” under Title IX and the Clery Act. Title IX bars sexual discrimination and is often used in lawsuits alleging sexual improprieties against students or university employees; the Clery Act requires universities getting federal money to collect and report information about crime on or near their campuses.
EW reached out to Lillis, UO President Michael Schill and UO General Counsel Kevin Reed for an explanation of the investigation.
Reed alone replied, sending a brief email saying he had worked with MTO in the past.
“UO regularly retains outside counsel to handle litigation and occasionally, independent investigations,” he wrote. “In this matter we retained Munger, Tolles & Olson because it is a firm that I have had a years-long professional relationship [with] and I knew that the partner there would handle the matter professionally and efficiently.” The partner named in the contract is Hailyn J. Chen, whose background includes considerable expertise in Title IX and the Clery Act, according to the MTO website.
Reed came to Oregon from Los Angeles, where he worked for the L.A. Unified School District and for the University of California in legal filings that also involved MTO lawyers.
He declined further comment on the matter, saying he could not do so “without waiving privilege.”
The UO refused a public records request from EW for a copy of the investigative report delivered under the MTO contract, saying that personnel matters involving faculty are exempt from disclosure and that the report is protected under attorney-client privilege.
In its written denial, though, the UO divulged that the subject of the complaint is an “unclassified employee outside the Provost’s Office” who is covered by the UO’s Faculty Records Policy, and that the investigation “addresses alleged conduct by an individual occurring prior to the time they were employed by the University.”
The UO paid MTO $60,416.01 on June 28 for its services, the records show.