Utah Valley University’s former Title IX director is suing the Orem school, saying her firing was in retaliation for voicing concerns about the university’s response to allegations of discrimination and harassment.
In a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Utah’s Third District Court, Melissa Frost alleges that UVU police gave less attention to sexual assault allegations made by gay men; that school personnel prolonged a disciplinary case against a student athlete; and that campus officials were slow to refer students to her understaffed Title IX office.
Frost also says that her firing came shortly after she began looking into allegations that three women were harassed and discriminated against by “white males” in UVU’s upper management.
“[UVU] General Counsel specifically requested to review the cases to determine whether there was sufficient information to move forward to investigation,” her complaint states. “This level of review had never been required previously.”
Frost filed the lawsuit on her own behalf, with no legal representation listed. She could not be reached for comment Thursday.
She is seeking reinstatement and lost wages, or a minimum $100,000 in damages and other relief, according to court documents.
In a written statement, UVU spokesman Scott Trotter emphasized that the university is a safe, welcoming and supportive environment for students and staff. He said that environment is due, in part, to a firm commitment to Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
“University leaders are aware of and disappointed in Ms. Melissa Frost’s allegations,” Trotter said. “We do not share her views.”
According to Frost’s lawsuit, supervisors at UVU had consistently given her positive performance ratings, with the exception of a 2016 evaluation that dinged her for raising concerns over her safety in connection with a student who displayed “escalating behavior” after being told he would not graduate.
“At no time prior to terminating her employment, did UVU ever reprimand or discipline her on any occasion,” the complaint states.
Frost says her efforts on campus led to an increase in students willing to report instances of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and sexual assault. But a consistent lack of staffing, resources and support for the Title IX office created a backlog of cases, which Frost says violated state and federal law.
Her 24-page complaint also criticizes coverage of her efforts by the university’s student newspaper, the UVU Review, and administrators for failing to support her in correcting misinformation in student journalists’ reporting, which Frost believed would discourage other students from reporting assault and discrimination.
In April 2017, Frost received a “memo of no confidence,” followed by a notice of termination in June 2017. She filed a complaint of retaliation, prompting a review by an outside investigator.
In November, Frost’s employment at UVU was formally terminated after an extended leave.
“To date, UVU has provided Ms. Frost no additional information from UVU supporting her termination,” the complaint states. “More specifically, she has received no information to show what policy she violated.”
At the time, UVU was one of five Utah campuses under federal investigation for potential Title IX violations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The investigations were triggered by students who said their allegations of sexual assault and harassment were ignored, mishandled or stalled by administrators.
Trotter, the UVU spokesman, said campus officials took immediate action to respond to and investigate Frost’s reports of retaliation. The university hired an impartial investigator, he said, who found her reports to be “wholly unsubstantiated.”
“We continue to fully cooperate with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), including having already provided OCR with the investigation report,” Trotter said. “We are confident the actual facts in this matter will prevail and will rebut Ms. Frost’s story.”