The Daily Californian (or Daily Cal) is an independent, student-run newspaper that serves the University of California, Berkeley campus and its surrounding community. It publishes a print edition Monday through Friday during the academic year, and twice a week during the summer, and an online edition every day. Established in 1871, The Daily Californian is one of the oldest newspapers on the West Coast, and one of the oldest college newspapers in the United States. Current circulation is about 10,000 for a campus of roughly 35,000 students.
Alice McNeil, who worked intimately with outgoing Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and his family as the former manager of University House — the residence of the campus chancellor — has sued UC Berkeley and the UC Regents for alleged wrongful termination.
McNeil alleged she was instructed to incorrectly report her hours spent completing personal services for Dirks’ family on tax forms, eventually resulting in removal from her position.
“Ms. McNeil’s removal from her University House job, the termination of her employment, and the refusal to re-hire her into positions for which she is qualified are all unlawful acts of retaliation by Defendant,” the lawsuit alleges.
McNeil’s lawyers could not be reached for comment.
McNeil worked as a manager and director at University House from 2013-14 — she was later laid off in 2015 because of a “lack of work,” which the lawsuit alleges was a “false and pretextual” explanation.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an email that McNeil’s position was eliminated as part of “an effort to improve efficiency and cut costs” at University House.
During her time at University House, McNeil performed both professional and personal services for Dirks and his family, according to the lawsuit. McNeil was required to report her hours spent on personal services — such as taking Dirks’ family’s pets to the veterinarian — on her tax forms.
McNeil alleged she was reproached for accurately reporting these hours and then directed to resubmit her forms with zero reported hours spent on personal services.
“The first time that Ms. McNeil attempted to comply with this directive by accurately reporting the time spent on performing personal services … she was verbally reprimanded,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit alleges in 2014, after McNeil submitted a tax form with the correct number of hours spent on personal services, Janaki Bakhle, campus professor and Dirks’ wife, complained about McNeil’s tax form and the resulting tax liability for the chancellor’s family.
Questions were raised about the accuracy of personal service reports submitted by McNeil, Mogulof alleged, because McNeil’s reports were “based on rough estimates” and McNeil had “failed to submit them in a timely fashion.”
“Because of the campus’s commitment to accuracy, the reports had to be corrected based on interviews with staff about their specific activities,” Mogulof said in an email. “Staff signed off on these corrected reports, and the Chancellor and his wife paid taxes based on them.”
The suit alleges after being laid off, McNeil applied for a different campus position, but was rejected in retaliation for her refusal to report false information on her tax forms.
Mogulof said in an email McNeil was offered a temporary contract position after she was laid off in 2015 and campus HR staff attempted to accommodate McNeil’s request for a different permanent position.
“(McNeil) rejected several openings that were identified as matching her skill set and salary expectations,” Mogulof said in an email. “The University intends to mount a vigorous and successful defense of its actions, and looks forward to contesting the claims presented by the plaintiff.”