On August 8, 2022, Melissa Osadchuck, a former employee at Weimar University, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Dr. George Araya, former Vice President of Academic Affairs at Weimar University, and against Weimar Institute. She is requesting a trial by jury in the Superior Court of California, Placer County. The case number listed is S-CV-0048892.
The allegations and case narrative in the filing document, by attorneys Benjamin Eghbali and Vanessa Jarvis, are copied below from the Court filings without edits for spelling, grammar or clarity. The emphasis of certain paragraphs, however, is ours. The Court filings and other documents are attached to this article. Please note that some victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault may find the descriptions triggering.
On or about April 21, 2021, Weimar University hired Melissa Osadchuck (Ms. Osadchuck) as an Admissions Representative. Her duties included taking phone calls, processing applications for potential students, and coordinating campus tours for students/families.
In or around April through May 2021, Ms. Osadchuck’s mentor, Dr. George Araya (Dr. Araya), offered his support and presented himself as a caring and insightful boss. He occasionally asked Ms. Osadchuck for a hug, which she dismissed as a warm, grandfatherly cultural gesture. However, this then graduated into a hug and kiss on the cheek, which Ms. Osadchuck presumed was a grandfatherly show of affection but began to feel uncomfortable.
In or around June through August 2021, Ms. Osadchuck was out of town due to work. Dr. Araya often called Ms. Osadchuck to check in on her progress and directed the conversation to personal questions about her spirituality and sexuality. Ms. Osadchuck feeling bitter about Dr. Araya’s intentions, would keep their conversations to work-related topics.
Dr. Araya started the calls asking for work reports and then steered the conversations to details about his sexual experiences with men and women. Dr. Araya said, “Melissa, God has created us as sexual beings, and it is important for you to be aware of your sexuality. I can tell you are not as comfortable as you should be discussing it with me. You need to learn to be comfortable in your sexuality, or it will begin to control you. I can tell that you are a highly sexual being like I am. I am what I am, and I have learned to manage it,” which made Ms. Osadchuck uncomfortable. He made remarks about Ms. Osadchuck’s appearance mentioning that he got aroused when he saw her in the office and wanted to see her naked in a G-string. The harassment took a toll on Ms. Osadchuck’s mental health, which resulted in her having doubts about whether to report Dr. Araya.Court Complaint Document, page 3
The conversations became more demanding by Dr. Araya who asked for details about her relationship with her boyfriend. He would ask if she was sexually active, suggested masturbation techniques, recommended sex positions, and asked if she was having intense orgasms. At this time, Ms. Osadchuck started to experience anxiety and depression as she was confused why Dr. Araya chose to target and harass her.
In or about October 2021, Dr. Araya called Ms. Osadchuck into his office for a meeting. In the end, he steered the conversation to ask Ms. Osadchuck personal questions about her life. She told him she didn’t see the purpose to why he continuously wanted to know the details about her personal life and dismissed herself. Dr. Araya beat Ms. Osadchuck to the door and asked her for a hug before permitting her to leave. Dr. Araya began hugging her tight, kissing her lips, and said, “Don’t scream!” Ms. Osadchuck, in shock, froze as Dr. Araya continued kissing her, groping her breast and vagina. She attempted to push him off, but he continued to kiss and grope her before finally releasing her, putting his finger over his lips to keep quiet about what had just occurred. Ms. Osadchuck, traumatized by the assault, left Dr. Araya’s office in tears. The following day, Dr. Araya approached Ms. Osadchuck at work and asked her if she liked his physical attempts to which she told him she did not enjoy nor appreciate him touching and manipulating her. Dr. Araya laughed and insisted she was pleased but wasn’t ready to admit it and offered to teach her more sexual techniques.Court Complaint Document, page 4
On or about November 11, 2021, Ms. Osadchuck messaged her supervisor Margaret Gallant (Ms. Gallant), asking to speak with her in person. Later that morning, Ms. Osadchuck told Ms. Gallant about the ongoing sexual harassment from Dr. Araya. Accordingly, Ms. Osadchuck spoke to Dr. Neil Nedley (Dr. Nedley) about the ongoing harassment. Dr. Nedley assured Ms. Osadchuck he’d address the matter with Dr. Araya and asked if she was okay to finish teaching for the semester, to which she later sent an email stating she would give it some thought.
Court Complaint Document, page 5
Later that day, Dr. Nedley called Ms. Osadchuck and explained that Dr. Araya confessed to overstepping his boundaries with her and said he would resign from his position as VPAA (Vice-President Academic Affairs). Dr. Nedley also told Ms. Osadchuck that Dr. Araya could potentially stay hired with the Education Department.
On or about November 17, 2021, Ms. Osadchuck emailed Dr. Neil Nedley (Dr. Nedley) a partial disclosure of events with Dr. Araya expressing the fear, trauma, and anxiety he caused.
On or about November 29, 2021, Ms. Osadchuck submitted her resignation, stating that her last day would be January 4, 2022.
On or about December 9, 2021, Ms. Osadchuck emailed Dr. Nedley expressing her concerns and fear about seeing Dr. Araya at church, crossing paths with him through campus, and seeing his vehicle in the parking lot.
On or about December 16, 2021, Ms. Osadchuck resigned from Weimar University as she felt they failed to protect her safety on campus. At the time of her resignation, Dr. Araya was still employed at Weimar University as the Chairman of the Education Department.
As a result of Dr. Araya’s actions and the Employer’s inaction, Ms. Osadchuck has suffered and will continue to suffer general and special damages, including severe and profound pain and emotional distress, anxiety, depression, headaches, tension, and other physical ailments, as well as medical expenses, expenses for psychological counseling and treatment, and past and future lost wages and benefits.
According to Weimar University’s Facebook page, Melissa Osadchuck is also a recent graduate of the Theology and Religion department. It states,
“Melissa Osadchuck is a recent graduate of Weimar’s Religion and Theology department, with a deep passion for loving on others. She is currently set on studying law with the hopes of helping create centers of influence, education, and healing on both local and global levels. In talking with her, we asked for her thoughts on the Homiletics class here
“I saved Biblical Preaching and Homiletics for one of my very last classes..not because it didn’t intrigue me or I don’t love talking, but because I keenly sensed the weight of what it would entail. Sharing God’s Word with clarity, eloquence, conviction and power seemed a daunting task – who was I to do so? But in studying this past semester, God has shown me that the power and eloquence, clarity and conviction can never come from man, but is a gift of His Spirit as we work together with Him in sharing the beauty of His truth. Sure, preparation demands all the powers of the mind if it is to be done well, but ultimately, we can trust His promise: So my Word that proceeds from my mouth will not return to me void…Weimar University Facebook Post
Despite Dr. Nedley’s quick action in confronting Dr. Araya, many unanswered questions exist.
Here are some of them:
Questions for the University/Weimar Institute Board
Does Weimar University have a policy on sexual harassment and other workplace harassment?
What are the systems for reporting abuse internally and externally as required by law?
How often are the staff trained to identify harassment? How many instances of harassment have previously occurred on this campus? How does the university screen its prospective staff? Was the Board made aware of the allegations when they first surfaced? If not, why not? Was Weimar university aware of Araya’s alleged bisexuality when it hired him? Was there any history of abuse of power in previous employments? Has Araya approached other young staff or students? How many other sexual assault or harassment incidents have there been on campus? Have those assaults been reported? Have any minors been involved? Ms. Osadchuck stated that she didn’t feel protected on campus. Do other women think similarly? Were Dr. Nedley’s actions and subsequent decisions consistent with Board policy for such situations? Why was Araya retained in his position in the Education department when he had admitted to crossing lines with support staff? Was his retention consistent with Adventist education principles and its standards for teachers and administrators? A lot of ink is spilled regarding the Christian lifestyle in the Student Handbook for Weimar University. Is the standard for lifestyle the same for teachers and administrators? Does retaining a bisexual teacher represent a New Theology and an openness to hiring other sexual orientations that currently exist nowhere else in Adventist Education globally? Is Weimar University breaking new ground in gender and sexuality?
Questions for the Plaintiffs
Conversely, for the plaintiffs, the case brief alludes to an email with “partial disclosure” to Dr. Nedley. Was Dr. Nedley made aware of all the allegations, including allegations of Araya’s alleged self-disclosed sexual exploits? Was the disclosure partial because she had begun the process of filing a case with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing? Or were the disclosures partial because Ms. Osadchuck got the sense that Dr. Nedley never fully believed her claims? Or was it because she was uncomfortable having to rehash the assault to another man? Did she record her interactions with Dr. Araya, with Dr. Nedley?
This case raises other challenging issues going forward for the self-supporting Adventist universities and other institutions. For decades these institutions have historically relied on the goodwill of individuals who believed they were working for an eternal cause. But in recent years, workers have observed that from Hartland on down, these institutions have been forced to change their curricula and employment practices as economic realities dictated a different path than the one laid down by Sutherland and others.
Weimar is now a university. And with that designation has come an avalanche of changes. And many more changes will come. There will be more corporate-speak, and the staff policy manual if it exists, will become heavier. Some of that goodwill, tolerance and spiritual deference will go away.
Weimar will face the same pressures that all Adventist universities have to face: competition from outside and within, a workforce that is no longer willing to bear abuses of power, and above all, a willingness of women to stand up to men in courts of law to assert their biblical God-given rights as human beings.
Dr. Nedley, Dr. Araya, and likely an array of Weimar staff will answer questions under oath in depositions and in court. Or the Weimar Board may think it wise to settle out of court. Paying out-of-court settlements may set a precedent for future cases. Win or lose; this case heralds a new era in which women at self-supporting institutions will begin to reach parity with men. According to the late conservative Adventist theologian, C. Mervyn Maxwell, the quest for Women’s ordination began with a case with the Internal Revenue Service. Perhaps the road to equality with men at self-supporting institutions will begin at the Superior Court in Placer County. Either way, change is coming to Weimar, and perhaps all this is a good thing (Romans 8:28).
Intelligent Adventist has reached out to Weimar University for comments from Dr. Neil Nedley and Dr. George Araya. The case management conference date is currently set for December 5, 2022.