Davenport files $20 million civil rights lawsuit against Dixie State president, others

Stock composite image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Former Dixie State University professor Varlo Davenport has filed suit against Dixie State University President Richard “Biff” Williams, other university administrators and a Utah assistant attorney general, alleging multiple civil rights violations and breach of contract.

Varlo Davenport, file photo, St. George News
Varlo Davenport, file photo, St. George News

Davenport was fired from his 15-year tenured position as a theater professor at Dixie State in November 2014 even though a faculty review board cleared him of any wrongdoing and recommended his reinstatement.

In July 2016, Davenport was acquitted of a single charge of assault brought by the City of St. George on behalf of a student who claimed Davenport assaulted her during a classroom acting exercise.

Read more: Jury finds Varlo Davenport ‘not guilty’

Aaron Prisbrey, Davenport’s attorney, alleges the university pushed for criminal charges in order to cover up the administration’s error in firing Davenport without due process.

The complaint was filed Friday morning in U.S. District Court, District of Utah, and names Williams, fine arts department chairman Mark Houser, campus security chief Don Reid, board of trustees chair Christina Durham and others. See below.

The suit alleges that Dixie State violated Davenport’s freedom of speech and right to due process and asks for $5 million for emotional distress, mental anguish and damage to Davenport’s reputation, and $15 million in punitive damages.

“You can’t fire someone who’s tenured without a termination hearing,” Aaron Prisbrey, Davenport’s attorney, said.

When Davenport was hired, the lawsuit states, he was not offered a written contract, but rather told that his terms of employment were governed by the Dixie State policy manual.

Varlo Davenport hugs a friend after receiving a not guilty verdict, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
In this file photo, Varlo Davenport hugs a friend after receiving a not guilty verdict, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

The university then violated its own policies and Davenport’s civil rights by targeting him for demotion and termination in a secret program, the suit alleges.

Davenport first became a target for the secret program because a faculty member disapproved of what he felt was the inappropriate nature of some of Davenport’s theater productions, the lawsuit alleges, which violates basic academic freedoms and Davenport’s freedom of speech.

Dixie State administration ran the university as a parochial school, demanding compliance and instruction consistent with the tenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the suit alleges.

Davenport believed the students needed an experience similar to what they would experience after graduation in a fiercely competitive industry, the suit states, and administrators never informed Davenport that there was a problem.

The suit was filed based in part on information obtained in the release of more than 20,000 emails relating to Davenport’s firing and subsequent criminal charges. The emails were released by order of Washington County Justice Court Judge Karlin Myers in June 2016 during Davenport’s trial for assault.

Read more: Davenport case: Judge orders DSU to turn over emails

Supporters of embattled former Dixie State professor Varlo Davenport gathered outside the Washington County Justice Court before the start of Davenport's trial, St. George, Utah, July 13, 2016 | Photo by Mike Cole, St. George News
In this file photo, supporters of former Dixie State professor Varlo Davenport gather outside the Washington County Justice Court before the start of Davenport’s trial, St. George, Utah, July 13, 2016 | Photo by Mike Cole, St. George News

Davenport is just happy the lawsuit has finally been filed.

“I am relieved to finally be at the point where I can hopefully start to rebuild my profession and reputation, my professional reputation,” Davenport said.

“I think the case will lay out that there were some real problems with how the case was handled, with the (lack of) due process and the duplicity of some of the people involved. And I’m just glad that we can finally start to let this see the light of day.”

The lawsuit asks for reinstatement of Davenport to his tenured position at Dixie State, along with costs, attorneys’ fees, compensation for lost wages and punitive damages.

“Goal No. 1 is what I have always wanted: I want my job back,” Davenport said, “or to be able to do my job again. To be able to practice my profession.”

“My joy is watching young artists grow,” he said. “That’s always been the part of the thing that makes my heart happy.”

Varlo Davenport, left, and his attorney, Aaron Prisbrey, listen as a court clerk reads the verdict, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
In this file photo, Varlo Davenport, left, and his attorney, Aaron Prisbrey, listen as a court clerk reads a not-guilty verdict, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

Also named in the lawsuit are DSU administrators and staff including then-executive vice president William Christensen, dean of performing arts Jeffrey Jarvis, dean of students Del Beatty, vice president of administrative services Paul Morris, media relations director Steve Johnson and assistant security director Ron Isaacson.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Michael Carter is also named in the suit along with several unnamed and unknown “John Does.”

All of the defendants are being sued personally; Dixie State University is not named in the suit.

As of Friday afternoon, neither the University nor any employees named in the lawsuit had been served with the complaint, Dixie University Director of Public Relations Jyl Hall said in an emailed statement, and would only respond to the complaint through the Utah Attorney General’s Office representative.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office declined to comment, public information officer Dan Burton said.

“I am not sure whether we are representing Dixie State, so I can’t comment on that, but as far as whether we’re going to comment on the suit itself right now, we are not commenting at all,” Burton said.

Carter had not seen the complaint as of Friday afternoon but said that under the circumstances, he would decline to comment.

The case has been assigned to Judge Evelyn Furse in the U.S. District Court, District of Utah, Central Division.

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

 

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18 Comments

  • 42214 January 6, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Hope he wins his suit and forces the junior college to shut down.

  • Sapphire January 6, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    That’s a lot of money that could go to helping students through college… sue the college, you are really suing the students and taxpayers. I’m sure he will not lose that much money not working there anymore.

    • Jessica January 7, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      You’re sure about that huh? Are you a moron? If he lives in St. George where else will he go to do the same job and make the same pay? So he is just supposed to go somewhere else?…Lol
      Did you even stop to think before you commented here.
      Is there another university down there I didn’t know about where he could go work at???
      Oh I see he should just leave because some moron thought there safe space was violated wrongfully I might add…Some people should never be a part of theatre period and the alleged victim is one of those people.
      The university violated its own policies!!!!
      You think the university and the people involved shouldn’t pay for that. I wonder did you do any math in your head about what Davenport would make yearly and the. What his retirement would have been…Uh hello…I’m guessing not. Think about it.

      • Jessica January 7, 2017 at 12:05 pm

        Not “and the” and what …Stupid phone.
        University is wrong on this 110 million percent sorry. Assault my …*…Freaking baby of a theatre student…What a joke.
        Ed. ellipsis: …*

        • .... January 8, 2017 at 1:02 am

          Warning ! Warning ! Jessica’s head is going to explode ! 3…….2………1 kaboom ! LOL ! ha ha ha

          • Real Life January 9, 2017 at 6:49 am

            There is a lot of anger and uncertainty with you lately. Perhaps you can have a discussion with your inner selves (r2d2, hiker, etc.) and come to terms. I recommend gainful employment as a solution.

  • ladybugavenger January 7, 2017 at 10:49 am

    I hope he wins! What the staff and SGPD did to him deserves compensation with a huge settlement.

    • Jessica January 7, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Just FYI this has nothing to do with the police department…Do some research…Learn how the system works. County and district attorney’s decide in these cases…Hello. Don’t drag police down for doing their jobs…The system decided this stupidity…Same leftist system that fails everyone…Over and over again. The cause of this whole thing is an over sensitive theatre student who got participation medals for everything done throughout life…Here is a prime example of that crappy system catching up to us all…Don’t blame police for that!!!

      • ladybugavenger January 7, 2017 at 5:06 pm

        My bad, forgive me, you’re right it’s the DA.

        I do believe SGPD is the best police force in the country, I apologize! and my foot is in my mouth.

      • ladybugavenger January 7, 2017 at 5:17 pm

        I retract SGPD and replace it with the county attorney and/or DA. They are the ones that brought charges and involved the police to obey their commands.

        It was just an awful miscarriage of justice. I don’t know the whole story but it never appeared quite right. It always smelled of something wrong. And the tricks and appearance of illegality the DA was pulling on Davenport were all just so so wrong. I commend Davenport for not bowing down and having and/or finding the resources to fight it.

        • ladybugavenger January 7, 2017 at 5:53 pm

          Did I stick my foot in my mouth again? Well, anyways. I’m not 100% focused. It’s a sad day for this Raiders fan. 🙁

      • .... January 8, 2017 at 12:59 am

        LOL ! go outside and get some air before your head explodes !!!

        • Real Life January 9, 2017 at 6:49 am

          Please see above post.

  • ladybugavenger January 7, 2017 at 10:55 am

    The plygs stole millions of tax payers money through their intentional food stamp fraud. And they don’t have to pay it back. That money could have fed a lot of hungry people. I understand your concern Sapphire, but they dragged Davenport through the mud and they must pay. I’m sure the college doesn’t have $20 million, a settlement is likely. If a jury awarded him $20 million, he may never see the money, but a point is made that they hurt him.

  • Curtis January 7, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Sapphire — The article is confusing since it says the university is not being sued, the named individuals are. That being said, the individuals can’t give Davenport his job back which is what he says he wants; only the university can do that.

  • comments January 7, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    “Davenport first became a target for the secret program because a faculty member disapproved of what he felt was the inappropriate nature of some of Davenport’s theater productions… Dixie State administration ran the university as a parochial school, demanding compliance and instruction consistent with the tenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”

    So they are alleging that it was an LDS mormon conspiracy?

  • WendyandMyke January 7, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    The defendants will be represented by the Attorney Generals Office which will be interesting since someone from their office is a defendant? The schools are covered by insurance for these types of issues so none of these people nor the school will ever pay a dime most likely. The defendants can use the AG’s office or get their own attorneys which I doubt they will do. This has been an embarrassing fiasco at best and ruining a mans livelihood that he has worked his entire life for is extremely shameful and criminal. Put yourself in this mans shoes- terrifying! Yet he has handled it with grace and dignity which I cannot say for the defendants in this case. Be careful on here as the President of Dixie will be shown these articles and these replies and you will be considered apart of “Varlos Army” (Who makes these silly names up?)- heaven help you if you are a current student or teacher there.

    • comments January 8, 2017 at 1:02 pm

      I guess he should have stuck to doing Disney-based productions

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