A former professor’s legal fight with Dixie State University has come to an end; however, his passion to teach others how to fight their own battles has just begun.
Varlo Davenport, a former DSU theater professor, filed a federal lawsuit against DSU and other faculty members on Jan. 7, 2017, for violation of DSU policy as well as multiple civil violations, including lack of due process.
Davenport was terminated on Dec. 5, 2014, after a student claimed he assaulted her in class, which stemmed from him pulling her hair in a theater class. After evaluation, Davenport was found innocent by a DSU faculty review board, faculty senate and a court hearing.
This lawsuit was settled on Dec. 18, 2019, for less than 1% of Davenport’s original demand of $20 million, Davenport said. According to a GRAMA request, DSU paid Davenport $44,999 out of an institutional personnel reserve; however, it is unclear if this is the full amount settled upon.
Along with the monetary compensation, DSU retracted its original statement, which was released after Davenport’s 2017 court hearing and from now on will provide a neutral recommendation for Davenport.
The statement included stances such as: “Even though the jury found Davenport not guilty of a misdemeanor charge of assault, the decision to terminate his employment was based on institutional policies and DSU’s commitment to keeping students safe,” and “[DSU] stands firm by its decision to terminate Davenport’s employment at the institution.”
The retraction of this statement and neutral recommendation, Davenport said, were what meant the most to him, but he would have liked to continue his pursuit for justice through the legal system; however, he said he could no longer afford it.
“I had one lawyer working by himself in a small office in St. George,” Davenport said. “[DSU] had their in-house university counsel, they had the state attorney general’s office, and they had hired in three… outside counsel from Salt Lake.”
DSU administration’s response was the Davenport matter was fully resolved as of Dec. 18.
This is not, however, the only lawsuit that is currently filed against DSU. Ken Peterson, a former DSU music professor, and Kacey Bingham, former DSU women’s soccer coach, are also in the midst of litigation.
According to Peterson’s complaint, he is suing for “breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, tortious discharge in violation of public policy, and other violations of Utah State Law committed by Defendants,” as well as compromise of his First Amendment rights.
Bingham’s complaint alleges DSU discriminated against Bingham on the basis of sex and demands $75,000.
Peterson said he anticipates oral arguments to go before a judge in March or April, while Bingham was called to participate in mediation before Jan. 20.
Davenport said he is wary of how much these lawsuits mean to DSU as an institution.
“When you have a relatively bottomless funding source of the state you can file motion, after motion, after motion,” Davenport said. “You can make the little guy’s lawyer dance to just about whatever tune you want him to dance to because you have the time and resources.”
Instead, Davenport said students and faculty should focus on educating themselves and others on what rights they have and how they can use them against an institution when necessary.
“[DSU students] do make a difference; [DSU students] can make a difference,” Davenport said. “You all aren’t snowflakes. You’re not. Just don’t let them convince you otherwise.”
You can find out more about your rights as a student by viewing the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s guides at https://www.thefire.org/research/publications/fire-guides/.