It began with a Facebook post. Christine Zeppos, the former dean of Brandman University’s School of Education, accused the university of trying to pay her off and silence her claims of sexual harassment in the workplace, in an Aug. 22 post.
Zeppos, an eight-year employee of the Chapman-affiliated university, is in the process of filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against Brandman, said Joseph Preis, her lawyer, in a statement he provided to The Panther.
Zeppos was terminated Aug. 17 after her “refusal to be paid off, (and) refusal to resign under false pretenses,” the statement said.
“She gave them every opportunity to do the right thing – and they refused to do so – and she will not be silenced,” the statement said.
Brandman, which is part of the Chapman University system and has a campus in Irvine, California, confirmed Zeppos’ termination.
The university also denied Zeppos’ claims of sexual harassment in a statement Brandman provided to The Panther, saying that the school is “deeply committed” to fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment and “emphasizes respect for all individuals regardless of race, gender, age, religion, sexual or gender orientation.”
Brandman has policies against harassment, in addition to preventing retaliation for reporting harassment, according to documents the school provided to The Panther.
“The university does not tolerate retaliation against an employee for cooperating in an investigation or for making a report of harassment,” one of the documents said.
Roberta Dellhime, a spokesperson for Brandman, wrote in an email to The Panther that the school has not received “any complaints of inappropriate sexual conduct related to this matter.”
“It is important to understand that while this is her opinion, we categorically deny these accusations and it would be highly inappropriate for the university to discuss details of (Zeppos’) employment,” Dellhime wrote.
Chapman University’s president, Daniele Struppa, wrote in an email to The Panther that, while Brandman is independent and managed separately from Chapman, he has “full confidence” in Brandman’s procedures and its commitment to “equal employment opportunity and inclusion.”
Students at Brandman have begun circulating a Change.org petition to reinstate Zeppos, using the hashtags #MeToo and
#StandWithDrZeppos. More than 430 people had signed the petition as of Sept. 9. Once a petition reaches 500 signatures, according to the company’s website, it’s eligible to solicit donations.
Included in the petition is a template of a letter addressed to Struppa, Brandman’s chancellor and a member of Brandman’s Board of Regents and demands Zeppos to be reinstated and calls for a third-party investigation into Brandman’s work environment.
The Panther reached out to multiple Brandman professors in Zeppos’ former department for comment, but did not receive a response.