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La Sierra University Lawsuit Falling Apart


The ongoing lawsuit at La Sierra University, brought by three former administration and faculty members, seems to be falling apart, according to a recent analysis by Michael Peabody, an attorney in Los Angeles, the editor of, and an alumnus of La Sierra University.

Peabody sent his analysis to La Sierra University constituents and trustees last week.

The complaint, filed in July 2011 by Jeffrey Kaatz, Gary Bradley and James Beach, alleges that the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists and the Pacific Union Conference interfered improperly in the employment affairs of La Sierra University. The three say that being asked to resign by the conference president was improper interference, because — and this is the really interesting part, Peabody says — they argue that La Sierra University is separate from the Seventh-day Adventist church.

LSU is neither owned nor controlled by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is a separate and independent entity with separate bylaws, board (with trustee handbook)  and administration and inference of ownership and control is inconsistent with the position the Church Defendants has taken in other litigation.

According to the complaint, La Sierra has been fully independent since 1990, when it was administratively separated “for liability purposes.”

However, in the court case, La Sierra University has agreed with the NAD and Pacific Union Conference, saying it actually is a part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This undercuts the argument of the three former employees.

Peabody says:

Employment cases rarely involve a central argument that the supervising organization is separate and distinct from the parent company (and where it is sued along with other defendants) and in this case the approach is proving unwieldy and ultimately impossible.

And he continues:

Had LSU broken rank and supported the Plaintiff’s contention, it would have sent shockwaves through the entire church and alumni community, could have potentially put the significant PUC budget at jeopardy, and raised red flags among parents of potential students.

As it is, it is unlikely that the case will continue.

Even if La Sierra was separate from the North American Division and the conference, the LSU Board of Trustees independently ratified the resignations and the university’s president and general counsel were present when the three employees were asked to resign, Peabody says. Thus, the buck stops with LSU.

Peabody concludes:

It is a sad day when disputes reach this level of litigation as the legal fees themselves guarantee that no party will not emerge unscathed. The only upside is that the case once again established the role of the University in connection with the role of the Church and the documents on behalf of the University confirm that the University and the Church are one in purpose and administration. 

See previous Spectrum coverage, including a primer on the main players in the lawsuit, a General Conference proposal on Board independence, and information on court documents in the case.

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