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Judge dismisses four of Ron Kramer's claims against SOU

Several claims leveled against Southern Oregon University and the Oregon University System by Ron Kramer, the ousted executive director of Jefferson Public Radio, were dismissed last month by the U.S. District Court in Medford.

Kramer filed a lawsuit against SOU and OUS in January 2013, nearly seven months after he was terminated as executive director of JPR, a position he’d held for 37 years. In the suit, he alleges that SOU, OUS and, more specifically, former SOU President Mary Cullinan and former OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner, engaged in blacklisting, violated his civil rights and breached his employment agreement with SOU, among other things.

U.S. District Judge Owen Panner ruled that four of Kramer’s six claims lacked merit, including his claim for blacklisting.

“The university is pleased with the court’s decision and believes that it is a favorable ruling,” said SOU spokesman Ryan Brown.

However, Panner’s decision on a fifth claim, alleging that Cullinan had violated Kramer’s 14th Amendment rights, was divided. And, in response, Cullinan filed an appeal Dec. 29 with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The appeal is based on the fact that Dr. Cullinan and legal counsel believe there was an error in the court’s opinion,” Brown said.

According to the ruling, SOU gave Kramer appropriate notice of his termination. However, the court said Kramer’s rights were violated when Cullinan failed to clear his name after SOU and the JPR Foundation exchanged a public document containing “charges that impaired Kramer’s reputation for honesty or morality.”

Last week, both Kramer and Cullinan, who is now president of Eastern Washington University, directed all questions regarding the case and appeal to their respective lawyers.

Portland lawyer Thane Tienson, Kramer’s co-counsel, said he and his client were especially disappointed that the court had dismissed their blacklisting claim and asked the court to reconsider its decision.

However, if the court rules in favor of Kramer on the one outstanding claim, he could still collect $1.275 million in damages.

The appeal could take up to two years to resolve. And in the meantime, Panner could choose to rule on the remaining claim sometime in the next few months or stay the case until the appeal has been decided.

“(The appeal) has put everything on a holding pattern,” Tienson said.

SOU, in collaboration with the JPR Foundation, share ownership and control of JPR. Kramer served as executive director of JPR and the JPR Foundation until 2012, when OUS determined it was a conflict for him to hold both positions and SOU dismissed him accordingly.

SOU hired Paul Westhelle to fill both roles on an interim basis despite its earlier objections.

Prior to leaving, Kramer proposed a series of resolutions to alter the JPR Foundation’s relationship with SOU, but the university threatened litigation if those resolutions were adopted. At a JPR Foundation board meeting, Cullinan urged the board to “reject the resolutions and consider mediations,” which the board did.

SOU and the JPR Foundation later entered a “binding settlement agreement.” According to the terms of the agreement, Kramer could serve as a volunteer consultant or independent contractor consultant to the JPR Foundation but not as an officer, director, advisory board member or employee of the foundation or its affiliates.

Because Cullinan did not give Kramer appropriate notice of his termination, the university was obligated to provide him with 90 days’ salary and benefits, which he received in a lump sum Oct. 22, 2012.

Kramer filed suit Jan. 29, 2013.

Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.