A jury Monday ordered a Christian university in Signal Hill that trains students to be health care professionals to collectively pay more than $1.4 million to two former professors who alleged they were wrongfully fired in retaliation for investigating student sexual harassment claims against the university’s co-founder.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel began its deliberations last Wednesday in the lawsuit brought in March 2016 by Anita Bralock and Brandon Fryman against the American University of Health Sciences. The panel awarded $751,100 to Fryman and $654,500 to Bralock.
The panel also found that school co-founder Pastor Gregory Johnson acted with malice, fraud or oppression, triggering a second phase of trial to determine if Bralock and Fryman are entitled to punitive damages. Johnson established the school in 1994 along with his wife, Kim Dang-Johnson.
Defense lawyers maintained the plaintiffs were involved in an effort to start a competing school and were fired because they refused to go along with the school’s investigation into their actions.
Bralock, 64, was hired as a professor and associate dean in 2010 and was later promoted to dean of the nursing school in June 2011, the suit states. Fryman, 42, began his teaching career at AUHS in 2012 as an adjunct faculty member and was later promoted to a full-time professor in June 2014, according to the suit.
While employed at AUHS, the plaintiffs “experienced a workplace that was inundated by… retaliation and intimidation by … Johnson,” the suit alleged.
The alleged retaliatory treatment came to a head in August 2015 when a nursing student reported to Fryman that Johnson had sexually harassed her, the suit states.
Fryman and Bralock, along with Joyce Giger, the then-president of AUHS, began an investigation into the student’s complaint and Johnson was subsequently asked to stop any unwanted touching of students, faculty and staff, the suit stated.
The investigation was at one point given to an outside investigator and in September 2015, Fryman was demoted to a part-time professor with a pay cut, the suit stated.
Fryman later filed complaints with the California Labor Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the suit stated.
Bralock and Fryman were suspended in October 2015 and Giger allegedly resigned the same day, the suit stated. The plaintiffs were fired in February 2016 “on the pretext that they engaged in wrongdoing, based on false allegations that they did not cooperate in an investigation regarding a competing school that has never been in existence,” the suit stated.