Former professor Jucheng Chen from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry filed a civil case lawsuit against the University Jan. 16 for alleged age discrimination, employer retaliation and wrongful discharge in lieu of public policy, according to a lawsuit obtained by the Daily Trojan.
In the lawsuit, Chen named USC, dentistry school Executive Associate Dean for Academic, Faculty and Student Affairs Mahvash Navazesh and Chair of Periodontology, Diagnostic Science and Dental Hygiene Casey Chen as the defendants of the case. Chen is suing the defendants for monetary damages and punitive action regarding his termination.
“We all hope USC would be better, more transparent,” Chen said.
Chen was employed by the University for 20 years and was appointed to the USC Provost’s “Task Force on Teaching Excellence” in March 2016, a year prior to his termination.
Chen alleged that his termination was sparked by an incident in 2017 after he noticed his students’ grades were changed without his approval. His primary role at the time was as a teacher’s assistant, and he was responsible for the grades of 16 freshmen.
“[Chen] believed a hacking mishap was more likely than not since, to his knowledge, his freshman grades had never been changed before and were based off USC’s own grading criteria and procedures,” the lawsuit read.
According to the lawsuit, Chen reported the situation on April 10 to the Office of Academic Affairs as a breach in the University servers, but he was soon notified by the University’s technical department that the course grades had been altered without his own approval.
“[Chen] received startling news from the IT department the next day” the lawsuit read. “IT confirmed … that the changing of Plaintiff’s grades was intentional and was done at the direction and behest of Associate Dean, Defendant [Mahvash] Navazesh.”
In response to the situation, Chen complained to other faculty and reported the incident, citing a cause of fraud. However, no action was taken thereafter.
Ten days after the complaint was filed, Chen received a termination letter, which he claims was the University’s retaliation to his protected complaint of academic violation.
Navazesh and Chen have denied all accusations, according to the lawsuit.
“When Plaintiff pressed for an explanation regarding the alteration, Defendants Navazeh and Chen could not and/or refused to provide one and wished him well in his future endeavors,” the lawsuit read.
The Daily Trojan reached out to Navazesh and Dr. Casey Chen for comment but was directed to University Media Relations.
“At the request of a number of students, an internal review was conducted of the grades assigned to that portion of the course,” the University wrote in statement to the Daily Trojan. “Based on that review, adjustments were made by a course co-director in a manner that was judged to be a more accurate reflection of the students’ work.”
Though the University maintains that student grades were changed after careful evaluation of the course, Chen alleged that he was wrongfully terminated after reporting the incident.
“Both Dr. Chen and I care about the integrity of the school … I think it’s very important that when speech of this nature occurs, the victim has the right to tell his narrative and to see justice,” said Chen’s lawyer Kevin Chiang, an alumnus from the Gould School of Law. “Our hope at the end of the day is that Dr. Chen is able to tell his story, let the facts speak for themselves and ultimately to let the judicial system adjudicate this matter in accordance with the law.
The Los Angeles Superior Court has set a jury trial for the case at Stanley Mosk Courthouse. At the time of publication, no trial date had been set. According to University Media Relations, USC is currently not represented by legal counsel.
Chiang said the trial is expected to take anywhere from six months to two years.
“[We] are prepared to litigate the case for however long the process requires,” Chiang said in an email to the Daily Trojan.