Curious Tritons: What are the details of the lawsuit against Chancellor Khosla?

In June 2019, weeks before Spring Quarter ended, former UC San Diego Associate Vice Chancellor of Health Sciences Jean Ford filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Chancellor Pradeep Khosla and the University of California Board of Regents. Ford’s lawsuit also alleges that Chancellor Khosla verbally harassed and discriminated against female employees during her time at UCSD.

However, due to the lawsuit being filed so close to the end of the school year, students feel that the weight of this incident was overshadowed by graduation and summer break. Most students are aware of the lawsuit’s existence, but for many, the specifics remain unknown.

This leaves many Tritons wondering: what are the details of the lawsuit against Chancellor Khosla?

According to a June 2019 article from the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ford was terminated from her position in 2018 due to her assistant completing an online class in her stead, giving her password to her assistant, and her own work considered by the university to be “less than satisfactory.” However, Ford claims that her assistant took the course without her knowledge, and that other university employees also share passwords among assistants. Between 2015 and the time of her termination, Ford raised approximately $300 million for UCSD. 

An ABC 10 News report from June 2019 mentions Ford’s claims that Chancellor Khosla’s attitude toward her became “increasingly hostile” over the course of those three years. Ford alleges instances when Chancellor Khosla expressed frustration at her high salary but did not make such comments to fellow similarly-paid male employees.

The Case Management Statement filed by Ford on Jan. 8 2020 to the San Diego Superior Court further claims that “in December 2015, Khosla promoted a younger, far-less-qualified male to supervise Plaintiff [Ford]. After Plaintiff complained about the promotion and the disparity of treatment by Khosla to the women employees, Khosla specifically targeted Plaintiff for retaliation…” 

The Union-Tribune also reported that the June lawsuit file detailed that “while Plaintiff [Ford] was at a work event with Khosla, she commented that her heels were hurting her feet. He responded that the only reason for her to wear heels was if she was wearing a skirt so people could see her ‘taut calves.’ He then informed her that since she regularly wore pants, she shouldn’t bother with heels.”

Ford further alleges in the lawsuit that Chancellor Khosla’s behavior toward fellow employees also consisted of gender-based harassment and discrimination. 

The lawsuit’s allegations further claim that Chancellor Khosla treated female employees differently than males in meetings by speaking over them, and prioritized male donors’ concerns over those of female donors. Ford also alleges that five middle-aged women in particular repeatedly had to experience “daily abuse in the form of demeaning and humiliating comments” from fellow workers, including Chancellor Khosla. 

The UCSD Guardian referred to the “The Reply Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendants the University of California and Pradeep K. Khosla’s Demurrer of Plaintiff Jean Ford’s First Amended Complaint.” This document was filed to the San Diego Superior Court on Jan. 31 and outlines several arguments of the UC Board of  Regents’ and Chancellor Khosla’s defense. 

The UC Regents and Chancellor Khosla’s defense attorneys argue that Ford has no grounds for several of her lawsuit’s claims due to provisions in the California Workers’ Compensation Act, including her Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim. The defense attorneys also argue that due to the California Government Tort Claims Act, the UC Regents can not be held liable for Ford’s additional claims that she has faced “Intentional Interference of Prospective Economic Relations… and Defamation.” 

The UC Regents and Chancellor Khosla’s attorneys have requested for “a demurrer without leave to amend” for these claims. If sustained, the claims will be dismissed and Ford will not be able to refile them.

The UCSD Guardian contacted Chancellor Khosla for comment. A representative from the university communications department responded on his behalf, stating, “The University does not comment on pending litigation. UC San Diego is committed to maintaining a workplace free from discrimination, retaliation or harassment of any kind… Discrimination based on gender or any other basis is a violation of university policy and contrary to UC San Diego’s values as a community.” 

According to the Superior Court of California, San Diego Register of Actions, the lawsuit is ongoing and does not have a court date set at this time. The Case Management Statement filed by Ford states that the case will be prepared to go to trial by June 2020. While the statement does not list an exact price, it does indicate that Ford is suing for more than $25,000. As of Jan. 23, a jury has been requested by both parties.

Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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