CVN screenshot of plaintiff lawyer Twila S. White, left, and defense lawyer Andrew Smith, right, giving their opening statements
Los Angeles, CA – A jury in a California state court heard opening statements Friday in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit filed by two former professors at a small Christian nursing school, claiming that they were fired for investigating allegations of student sexual harassment against the school’s founder, and the proceedings are being webcast by the Courtroom View Network.
Plaintiffs Anita Bralock and Brandon Fryman accused the American University of Health Sciences and its founder Pastor Gregory Johnson of retaliating against them after they and a third faculty member launched investigations into complaints by several students about Johnson’s alleged sexually inappropriate behavior.
Johnson and the school deny the allegations, saying Bralock and Fryman were involved in plans to start a competing school and were fired after failing to cooperate with the American University’s investigation into their activities.
Representing Bralock and Fryman, lawyer Twila S. White described AUHS to the jury as a small Christian university with 300 students founded by Johnson in 1993.
She explained that since the school receives federal funding, it must comply with Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. White also discussed how Johnson filled an unusually high number of administrative roles in the small school, most notably as the school’s Title IX coordinator.
White said the arrangement created a sticky situation from 2015 when students raised allegations about Johnson’s own behavior, a scenario White compared to the “fox who kept the chicken coop.”
White said investigations into the allegations, which included allegations of unwanted contact and inappropriate comments, began with one of Fryman’s nursing students complaining to him. Fryman then involved Bralock in her capacity as dean of the nursing school with a third faculty member. The three faculty members met with the original complainant off campus to discuss their complaints.
White described to the jury an atmosphere on campus where she said students and faculty were to attend sessions where they recited and analyzed Johnson’s spiritual guidance that White called a sexual theme, and she said Johnson had the reputation on campus for being a “hug and kisser.”
Johnson was said to have been aware of the inquiries, which White says were quickly buried after being picked up by Johnson’s attorney. Soon after, Fryman’s salary was cut in half, and he and Bralock were fired following an investigation allegedly related to involvement in a business plan for a competing school, which White called cover for unlawful retaliation related to a Title IX investigation.
White did not seek a specific amount of damages from the school in her opening statement, but she described the personal and professional toll the events took on Fryman and Bralock, who she said were fired for trying to protect their students.
âIf they broke something, they have to fix it, and you’ll decide what it takes to fix it,â White said.
AUHS representative Andrew Smith, managing partner of Tyson & Mendes’ Los Angeles office, told the jury that the evidence would show that Fryman and Bralock were actively involved in plans to create a competing school, and that Johnson and AUHS had perfectly the right to dismiss the employees involved. in plans to support a competitor.
Representing Johnson directly, Bob Thompson, managing partner at Callahan Thompson Sherman & Caudill LLP, accused Fryman and Bralock of constructing a false story because no law allows you to sue for being caught working against your employer current.
Smith told the jury that sessions involving allegedly inappropriate spiritual counseling were completely voluntary, and that Johnson, whom Smith repeatedly described as a “man of faith” did not even attend them often.
Smith said the AUHS had taken notice of a formal business plan to start a new school that referred to Fryman and Bralock by name and urged jurors to ignore White’s arguments that the plan did not succeed. never materialized.
âIt was a running business whether it exists now or not,â Smith said.
He said the two teachers received four months of paid administrative leave and were ultimately fired after refusing to cooperate with the school’s investigation.
Smith said the students’ allegations against Johnson were unsubstantiated after an investigation by a school administrator, although he said those results had been forwarded to an “independent investigator” for further consideration since that administrator reported to Johnson.
He said neither Bralock nor Fryman suffered any professional consequences as a result of their dismissal, noting that Bralock quickly landed a job at UCLA’s nursing school and that Fryman had held several teaching positions. in the Seattle area.
âThese are people who are thriving,â Smith said.
The trial is taking place before Judge J. Stephen Czuleger. CVN covers the debates from hammer to hammer as part of an ongoing commitment to film and webcast “real-world essays” of the value of information to the legal, business and educational communities that CVN serves. mainly but not covered by other media organizations. .
The case is captioned Anita Bralock v. American University of Health Sciences Inc., Los Angeles County Superior Court case number BC614955.
Email David Siegel at [email protected]