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COVID Policing Backfires: University Faces Lawsuit After Acting on False Report of COVID

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In a time when so much fear and hysteria revolve around a virus, it’s more important than ever to have clear and logical processes behind action.

Celeste Archer is suing University of Colorado Denver after administrators tried to bar her from campus based on a false rumor that she had COVID-19.

Archer, the executive director of the University of Colorado Denver’s National History Day in Colorado and the National Conference of Governor’s Schools, was on her way to campus on Sept. 3 when she received alarming news.

An email had circulated to five administration members, reporting that Archer had been exposed to COVID, had tested positive and was displaying symptoms.

She then received a notification barring her from campus until a contact tracer cleared her.

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The problem was that Archer did not have COVID. In fact, she had been vaccinated and had been extra careful due to her work with about 25,000 children across the state of Colorado. She had no exposure or symptoms or a positive test.

Archer immediately contacted the administration to tell them that this rumor was absolutely false and that she expected a retraction within 15 minutes.

Eventually, the university’s attorney contacted her to confirm the rumor was false.

“So it was clearly somebody who was using the system, manipulating the system to do whatever. I’m not sure what they think they were trying to do, “ Archer told the Western Journal.

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However, the attorney refused to give Archer the name of the person who reported her.

“It was clearly targeting, because they listed days when they had contact with me, [when], not only was I not on the campus, I wasn’t even in the state of Colorado,” Archer said.

Archer feared that this kind of targeting could have happened to anyone.

“If it was happening to me — somebody who’s pretty savvy — what is going to happen to a kid? I mean, you can’t have a vulnerable system like that in these times or in this situation,” Archer said.

So what is CU Denver’s actual policy when it comes to reporting COVID-19 and staying away from campus? Can just anyone report that someone has COVID and thus cause them to be excluded from campus?

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Archer and her lawyer William Trachman from Mountain States Legal Foundation haven’t been told. The university’s counsel told Archer that they acted too quickly and she shouldn’t have been told she was excluded from campus. Furthermore, the counsel informed Archer that they are planning on changing the process.

“[B]ut we don’t know whether they have changed the policy or whether this could just happen again tomorrow,” Trachman said.

However, in an official statement, the university stated that they simply followed policy in this whole situation.

“Our No. 1 goal throughout the pandemic has been to keep our campus community safe. We followed our safety protocols and responded with good intent, as we would with any reported positive case of COVID-19 on campus. In less than two hours, we sorted out any misunderstandings and invited the employee back to campus,” CU Denver’s official statement said.

But, the university still will not tell Archer who reported her. So if the policy is not changed, that means harassers can take advantage of the system and COVID-19 hysteria to exclude any individual from campus.

Now Trachman is suing the university on Archer’s behalf for violation of due process. They are also suing for defamation.

“So here Celeste not only had a job, but her job required her to be on campus. And look, there are, you know, there are COVID restrictions happening all over the country, but you have to have some process before you can just bar someone from going to their job and doing the fundamental parts of their job,” Trachman said.

If an administrator had simply called Archer to ask if she had COVID-19, they would have been following due process. It would have saved them time and problems as well.

“Just think critically. They’re not thinking critically. It’s like this crazy fear has left them not thinking critically,” Archer said. “Reactionary behaviors do not do anything.”

Archer’s lawsuit also includes a defamation claim against the unknown harasser. The hope is that this will result in a court order to disclose the name.

“If I am being targeted … I’m a little concerned about that and I would like to file a police report, so I need to know who it is. That’s my biggest thing, is to know who did this. Again, because it’s so purposely malicious,” Archer said.

It has been a few weeks since the lawsuit was brought against the university, but Archer has yet to hear anything.

“I haven’t heard a word from them regarding the lawsuit. Lots of words with them about what a great job I’m doing and supporting everything I’m doing,” Archer said. “But it’s like the elephant in the room. Nobody’s brought it up at all.”

Trachman said the university did have a settlement conversation two weeks ago. They asked him to not serve the lawsuit yet, while they talk settlement. But he has yet to hear anything further.

Archer also wants to be amply clear that this is not some sort of vendetta against the university. She is not asking for lots of money in this lawsuit.

As a social entrepreneur, Archer is aware that she is an unlikely hire for the university. She said she loves CU Denver and what they allow her to do.

“But we — they, everybody — we have got to stop reacting. And we have got to start thinking about … this is not just a linear disease. This is not a virus that is attacking us physically,” Archer said. “This is something that we’ve allowed to attack us, attack us in a totality of ways. And that’s really what my goal is.”

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