48.2 F

Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

UCD employee says the handling of her sexual harassment case indicative of UC-wide issues

UC Regents accused of negligence, failure to act

A case involving a UC Davis employee of 31 years who was allegedly subject to sexual harassment by a male supervisor and coworker during a two-year period is working toward a jury trial in which the UC Regents are accused of being negligent and failing to act properly when made aware of the issue.

The complainant in this case — who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the matter — and her legal team are waiting to get a formal response from both the defendant and UC Davis, who are expected to either file a motion challenging the legality of the civil complaint or answer the complaint, according to the complainant’s legal representative, John D. Winer.

PR Account Manager Joe Marchelewski from Juris Productions Inc., a media strategy and consultation agency which represents trial lawyers including Winer, wrote in an email sent to The California Aggie that the complainant was “subjected to unwanted touching, unwanted hugging, having her chest area touched and having her privacy violated.”

The complainant said she attempted to deal with the alleged harassment herself, which began in July of 2015, until she finally reached out to the university for support and made a formal complaint in December of 2016.

No action was allegedly taken by the university until Jan. 23, 2017, when an investigation was opened into the case. At this point, the complainant said she was no longer supervised by the defendant, but continued to see him as the university decided to place the defendant in a nearby building without offering the complainant any form of paid leave.

The complainant believes the alleged harasser should have been placed on leave — “although they could have assigned other experienced staff in the interim,” she said, “they allowed him to continue working.”

“I dreaded going to work every day,” the complainant said. “I didn’t and never want to see his face again; I didn’t want to walk through campus or go anywhere in Davis to meetings, training, celebrations. So I would avoid any chances of running into him or seeing him. I now have to continue working with some male individuals who keep in touch with him, and as a result I have experienced dirty looks and, at times, being ignored.”

Dana Topousis, UC Davis’ chief marketing and communications officer, acknowledged the university’s awareness of a long-term employee whose allegations of sexual harassment were investigated.

“When the investigation determined that policy violations had occurred, the University pursued disciplinary action against the respondent, who resigned before the discipline could take effect,” Topousis said. “UC Davis investigates all reported claims of harassment and other abuse. Our investigations are thorough and we take due process seriously. We seek a campus climate that is safe for everyone.”

The complainant, however, said the university’s decision not to place the alleged perpetrator on leave in the interim was disappointing.

“White male individuals in high level positions have been getting away with their inappropriate behavior,” the complainant said. “Since I am a female minority, it was degrading to me. I felt that I was not valued as an individual as well as an employee who has given so much to this institution through 30-plus years of dedication and hard work.”

The stress felt by the complainant did not end there, however, as the defendant later attempted to illegally sue her for participating in the legal investigation against him. Winer described the situation as “fundamentally wrong.”

“It really was outrageous and a clear violation of her First Amendment rights and law that protects people who bring sexual abuse complaints from being sued for making a complaint,” Winer said. “This caused an enormous amount of additional stress, when plaintiff believed she was going to lose her lifetime savings.”

Winer represents several women throughout the state who are in similar situations. He also disagrees with the way the university handled this case, referring to the alleged harasser as “a convicted sexual harasser” based on what he says were the university’s findings.

“He should have been fired,” Winer said via email. “Instead he was emboldened to drive an hour away where he obtained a prime job in the UCOP, University of California’s Office of the President, until someone there had to inform UCOP that the perpetrator was a convicted sexual harasser, at which point he was finally fired.”

Along with his client, Winer believes this case is indicative of a larger pattern of issues within the UC system. He questioned how the alleged harasser was able to obtain a job working for the UC system following UC Davis’ findings and points to “a major failure on part of the whole system.”

The complainant in the case said she hopes the manner in which her case was handled will never be repeated with any future cases.

“The university should place the defendant under investigatory leave, preferably with compensation and protect the victim until the investigation is finalized,” the complainant said.

From his experiences with these types of cases, Winer argued that there must be a major shake-up in the system in order to ensure future changes.

“The only way it will be fixed is if the highest-up administrators begin to take the sexual harassment complaints seriously, and send a statewide message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated,” Winer said. “It seems like every time we bring a new sexual harassment case against yet another UC, we have to start from the bottom up to attempt to educate school officials on how they can stop sexual harassment.

Winer described necessary steps he feels should be taken in order to protest those who report cases of sexual misconduct, beginning with protecting the victim, opening an investigation into the matter and severely disciplining the perpetrator “if there is a finding of sexual harassment.”

“Finally, the message will get out that sexual harassment will not be tolerated,” Winer said.

Written by: Deana Medina — campus@theaggie.org


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