CIRCLEVILLE — Ohio Christian University, its former president, and some current employees and board members are named in two lawsuits claiming a culture of sexual harassment and retaliation that led to a hostile work environment and wrongful termination.
The first suit is currently in the discovery phase and was filed on September 22, 2017, by Jeremy D. Davitz, a licensed attorney who began working as OCU’s general counsel in January 2016. Davitz was fired just one year later, after he claims he ran afoul of then-president Dr. Mark Smith.
In the suit, Davitz said he launched an investigation into the alleged bad behavior of Mark Smith’s son, Douglas Smith, in order to protect the university from possible lawsuits.
Davitz claims that Mark Smith retaliated against him, leading to Davitz’s wrongful termination.
According to court records, Douglas Smith attended OCU from 2013 until at least 2016, and worked at the IT help desk. Court documents state, “In the workplace, Doug Smith made numerous abhorrent, racist, and discriminatory statements about certain classes protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
According to the documents, these included verbally denigrating blacks, Mexicans, Jews, and homosexuals to co-workers. The court records also claim Douglas Smith took photos of women’s body parts in the workplace and posted them on social media, and that Douglas Smith claimed a female co-worker had been hired because she was sexually promiscuous. While on the job, he also allegedly explained something he had devised called a “slut test.”
In the lawsuit, Davitz alleges that Mark Smith and Rick Christman, vice president for student development, “kept this information from Davitz even though the situation surrounding Doug Smith...put Ohio Christian University at a tremendous risk for litigation and resulting damages.”
Davitz states that as soon as he learned of the situation, he began to investigate, which evoked the ire of Mark Smith.
Davitz alleges that on learning that his son would be fired from his IT help desk position, Mark Smith banged “his fists on the desk several times. Mark Smith yelled that he, himself was a victim and that his son was a victim who had gone through tremendous hardships...Mark Smith also threatened to sue both Ohio Christian University and Davitz and Hartman (vice president of finance) personally.”
Davitz alleges that Mark Smith demanded that if his son, Douglas, were to be fired, then the women who made the allegations should also be fired, to which Davitz responded, “that would constitute retaliation.”
Davitz alleges that Dr. Smith called him “an inhibitor” and said “that Davitz should not have been hired.”
Court records state that OCU’s chairman of the board, Dr. Thomas Hermiz, reached out to Davitz on May 15, 2016, and that Davitz recommended hiring an independent investigator. The executive committee resolved to hire Steven Seasly of Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP, to investigate OCU’s response to the Doug Smith situation, as well as Mark Smith’s tenure as president. Mark Smith learned of the investigation after several months.
According to court records, Mark Smith sent the following message to the executive committee on August 18, 2016:
“[I]f this goes to an investigation, [Mark Smith’s attorneys] will begin their investigation with the board and chair — they will then investigate Jeremy [Davitz] and see if there is ethical breach — they said when done — the college will be front page of the newspaper — I would be Rich [sic] but ruined for a future but the church and college would be destroyed... this is my last appeal before legal action begins which I believe will destroy me.”
Despite at least one board member fearing that, “If you choose to go forward with an ‘external’ investigation I fear for the future of OCU,” the full board of trustees authorized the investigation.
Davitz then alleges he was shut out of university business and assignments, and was harassed by Mark Smith and his allies. Davitz was fired on Jan. 5, 2017. On Jan. 16, Mark Smith resigned as president of OCU.
Mark Smith is now president of Columbia International University in South Carolina. He could not be reached for comment.
According to Davitz’s attorney, Jami Oliver, “The lawsuit is very specific about the actions of the former president and his son, as well as the board members, in permitting sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and attempting to cover up those actions.”
On Jan. 1, 2018, a woman named Cynthia Dove, who is named in the Davitz suit, filed her own lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission regarding the situation at OCU.
Dove was an OCU student and a co-worker of Douglas Smith on the IT help desk, who alleges she witnessed Doug Smith make racial and sexist slurs. She also alleges that he “started to place his finger” in her mouth before she stopped him, and that he stated, “That was a slut test. If they close their mouth, they’re a slut.”
The court documents allege that Dove went to several members of OCU’s administration regarding the harassment before she was moved to a different department, only to find that Doug Smith was also moved into her department. He was allegedly allowed to work alongside her for two more weeks before he left the department.
When Dove sought full-time work at OCU after graduating summa cum laude in 2016, one of the defendants in her federal case, Ryan Whisler, allegedly said, “Cynthia will never be a full-time employee here because she’s burned some bridges.”
The “bridges” were allegedly in reference to the situation with Douglas Smith.
Whisler released the following statement to the Herald in response:
“Ohio Christian University takes very seriously all claims of employment discrimination. It is the University’s policy to not discuss specifics of pending litigation. Therefore, no comment is provided on the specifics of these two related cases involving Mr. Davitz and Ms. Dove. When all evidence is heard in these related cases, the University is confident the conclusion will be reached that Mr. Davitz and Ms. Dove were not discriminated against or otherwise treated improperly.”
Davitz’s attorney, Jami Oliver said that her client was following his conscience by exposing what he felt was wrongdoing at the university.
“Mr. Davitz was protecting young, female students and employees of the university,” she said. “We are hopeful that this lawsuit will result in the university taking seriously all claims of employ ment discrimination, including insulating instead of victimizing those who report such conduct.”