Facebook Twitter



U.S. Magistrate Calvin Gould has granted motions by a former University of Utah Women's Resource Center official and Utah's major news organizations to compel the disclosure of documents in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

The ruling followed a hearing Wednesday during which U. lawyers warned that the release of such documents could have a chilling effect on future job applicants and jeopardize the institution's recruitment program.At issue were unspecified personnel records and administrative review reports, which Beverly T. Purrington, the center's former acting director, requested in preparation of her anti-discrimination case against U. officials.

She alleges that she was sexually harassed by Shauna Adix, the center's former director, and that Adix and university administrators retaliated against her when she complained. Purrington said she and other women were subjected to "unwanted touching" and sexual propositions at the center.

Attorneys Elizabeth Dunning and Charlotte Miller submitted a memorandum saying, "At the very heart of Purrington's claim in this case is the University of Utah's attempts for over a decade to cover up the sexual harassment that occurred at the Women's Resource Center."

U. attorney Edward O. Ogilvie responded that the documents Purrington and the news organizations were seeking to make public include resumes, letters of application and confidential personnel matters.

The U. doesn't object to having the documents reviewed by the court and the parties to the lawsuit, but public disclosure would damage the university, Ogilvie argued.

Gould permitted attorneys Pat Shea and Boyd J. Hawkins to intervene in the argument on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Deseret News, KUTV, KSL-TV, KSL Radio, KTVX, KALL/KLCY, the Kearns-Tribune Corporation, and the Ogden Standard-Examiner.

They said release of the documents is necessary "in order to provide the news organizations and the general public with their constitutionally protected right of access to judicial proceedings."

Shea said the U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected the "chilling effect" argument in a Pennyslvania case involving disclosure of university tenure files. The court held that it was not an acceptable reason for secrecy, he said.

"The University of Utah fails to appreciate how integral to open society is the free access to files that reflect on how decisions are made," Shea said.

The university's lawyers had argued that the U.S. Supreme Court "had made it clear that pretrial discovery (the search for evidence) is a private matter and the public has no First Amendment right to obtain it."

The lawsuit was originally filed in 3rd District Court on Feb. 14, but it was moved to federal court at the U.'s request a month later.

Purrington was appointed program coordinator at the Women's Resource Center in September, 1985, and became acting director when Adix resigned in 1988. Purrington quit when administrators picked someone else to be permanent director. Adix, meanwhile, joined the School of Social Work faculty.

Purrington said she was denied fair consideration for promotions and the director's job because of her complaints against Adix.

"Individuals who complained were told about a file on Adix `this thick' and in the next breath that nothing could be done," her suit says, alleging that she and others were "discouraged from pursuing their complaints."