Two former professors at a Christian university in Signal Hill that trains students to be health care professionals were awarded $500,000 each in punitive damages Thursday to cap a trial in which they maintained they were wrongfully fired in 2016 in retaliation for investigating student sexual harassment claims against the university’s co-founder.
The same Los Angeles Superior Court panel on Monday collectively awarded $751,100 in compensatory damages to plaintiff Brandon Fryman and $654,500 to fellow plaintiff Anita Bralock in their suit brought in March 2016 against the American University of Health Sciences.
The panel also found that school co-founder Pastor Gregory Johnson and one or more university officers, directors or managing agents acted with malice, fraud or oppression, triggering Thursday’s second phase of trial to determine if Bralock and Fryman were entitled to punitive damages.
Johnson established the Hill Street 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 stated. 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 eventually 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 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.