According to an e-mail sent in Oct. 2007, former dean of Cal Poly’s College of Engineering Mohammad Noori “sold (his) soul to the devil Saudi Arabia” — at least this was written in the mass message sent to all faculty and staff by Noori’s alleged hacked account.
This is just one of the events listed in a lawsuit Noori filed Dec. 7, 2010 at the Los Angeles Superior Court. Among the defendants are the California State University Board of Trustees, Cal Poly, Provost Robert Koob, engineering professor Unny Menon, local CalCoastNews journalist Karen Velie and local blogger Roger Freberg, according to the official court documents.
Cal Poly University Legal Counsel Carlos Cordova said this is the first case in which a dean sues Cal Poly that he has dealt with at Cal Poly since starting in 1994.
In the lawsuit, Noori requests a jury trial to address the 12 complaints listed in the case. The complaints include wrongful termination, breach of contract, racial and religious discrimination, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to the official court documents.
The lawsuit comes after Noori, who began his position in October 2005, served as the dean for five years. In June 2010, after a controversial plan to set up a satellite, Cal Poly College of Engineering in Saudi Arabia fell through and a series of alleged budget issues arose under his jurisdiction. Noori was then asked to step down by Koob, according to the court documents.
At time of press Noori declined to comment and suggested his attorney, Charles Matthews, be contacted with any questions. Matthews did not return any phone calls left by the Mustang Daily.
The 23-page-long case is written with each complaint linked to the defendant it is most relevant, starting with the largest entity — the CSU Board of Trustees.
The case lists the Board of Trustees among the defendants because Cal Poly is one of the 23 CSU campuses, according to Matt Lazier, a communications specialist in the public affairs office at Cal Poly.
“However, the lawsuit is being handled primarily at the campus level,” Lazier said.
Cordova said the case is of little concern to the university because it is based mainly on claims of discrimination, which should have been dealt with as soon as they occurred, Cordova said. Instead, these issues are arising after the fact and after Noori’s dismissal.
Cordova said if Noori felt discriminated against as dean there were multiple places for him to file a complaint, and Noori did not file one until after his termination.
“We’re confident we can prove there was no discrimination in this case,” Cordova said. “The decision to remove him was based on the best interest for the College of Engineering.”
When asked to comment, Koob said the lawsuit remains on a professional level within his role at the university and will not spill over into his personal life. However, he did not comment further.
“It’s not a personal concern,” Koob said. “It is a professional concern.”
In June 2010 Koob acted as the official responsible for requesting Noori not renew his contract, an event which came after a series of others that led up to university officials deciding his dismissal was best for the college and Noori filing the lawsuit.
The initial news of Noori’s dismissal came only days after he allegedly received praise about his work from then Cal Poly President Warren Baker. The reason given by Koob at this time was the university “Chairs were ‘not happy’ with his continuation as dean.”
As a result of these conflicting messages from Koob and Baker about his performance, Noori disagreed with the reasoning behind his dismissal. He requested a meeting with Koob and Baker which never happened, according to the court documents.
During the initial conversation, Noori was assured the request to step down would remain confidential, however, Velie (who is also the owner of CalCoastNews), arrived at his office to inquire about the situation the next day, as stated in the case papers.
Within three days, the article about Noori’s dismissal was posted on Velie’s website. Velie said the story was a result of extensive reporting she did to confirm Noori’s position at that time.
Prior to the happenings listed which were centered around Noori’s dismissal, the controversy surrounding his plan to build a Cal Poly affiliated College of Engineering in Saudi Arabia brought attention to his work as dean. The plan gained support until, as per request of the Saudi Arabian government, individuals who were Jewish, women or members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community would not be permitted in the school.
After this discrimination-based request, Cal Poly said the deal was off. However, Noori, who immigrated from Iran and became a U.S. citizen in 1988, continued to search for support.
It was after these events that Noori’s e-mail account was allegedly hacked and a message containing an article about his continued support was sent on Oct. 26, 2007. The subject of the e-mail, appearing to be sent by himself, was about how Noori, “sold (his) soul to the devil Saudi Arabia.”
Velie and Freberg wrote stories on their respective websites about Noori’s support for the plan which he claims included “racial and defamatory attacks,” according to the court documents. This being a main causation of their names being listed under defendants on the lawsuit.
When contacted, Freberg said he could not comment about the lawsuit.
“There is plenty that is going on, but my attorney says ‘No,’” he said.
Velie, in response, said the articles by her publication are still available for anyone to read and they lack the alleged discrimination the court documents list.
“I do not think the lawsuit has merit, and I do expect to be successful in fighting this,” Velie said. “I do not think the writing was racial and defamatory.”
Since his dismissal as dean in June 2010, Noori has not returned to teaching. He is on sabbatical with a contractual right to return to Cal Poly once it ends, Cordova said.
“His appointment letter said (that) if he is removed from dean, he is entitled to a six month sabbatical,” Cordova said. “The purpose is to get him prepared to get back to the classroom to teach.”
The only other change to the lawsuit has been a request by Noori for a new judge based on concerns about prejudice hindering the right to a fair trial, according to court documents. The request was granted.
An official court date was not given by time of press.