19 campus employees violated UC sexual harassment policies in past seven years

Sujit Choudhry, Geoffrey Marcy, Graham Fleming and Yann Hufnagel were all found by the Office for Prevention of Discrimination and Harssment to have violated UC sexual harassment policies. The publicizing of these investigations over the past year have spurred questions about how the campus handles sexual harassment cases.

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Update 4/6/16: This story has been updated to reflect new information from OPHD investigation complainants and respondents, as well as campus spokespeople.

As UC Berkeley grapples with a slew of sexual harassment scandals, recently released reports show that 19 UC Berkeley employees were found to have violated university sexual misconduct policy since 2011.

The documents, obtained by The Daily Californian on Tuesday night through a Public Records Act request filed in March, include the results of 11 investigations into 12 campus employees by the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination that were previously not made public. Of those investigations, three of the respondents resigned, four were terminated and four were given punishments varying in harshness from suspension to a letter of warning. Additionally, one disciplinary proceeding regarding campus assistant professor Blake Wentworth is still pending.

Six of the 17 investigations involved a faculty member or other academic employee accused of misconduct, with the other 11 involving staff. In addition, documents show that for seven of the 17 cases, the complaining individuals were current or former students.

Misconduct cases that OPHD investigated included a range of different types of sexual harassment, from a former Cal Dining general manager comparing his penis to the size of a 12-inch chef knife in front of colleagues in 2015 to a former RSF massage therapist rubbing the bare skin of an undergraduate student’s vagina during a session in 2014.

Faculty members with administrative positions who were found to have violated university sexual harassment policy since 2011 — such as former Berkeley Law dean Sujit Choudhry and former vice chancellor for research Graham Fleming — resigned from their administrative positions but remain faculty members at UC Berkeley. Excluding Wentworth, faculty members without administrative positions investigated in the last five years resigned after OPHD substantiated allegations against them.

In all four cases that resulted in termination, the fired employee was a campus staff member.

The documents released Tuesday number more than 400 pages recording investigation interviews, evidence and disciplinary sanctions against those found to have violated the university sexual harassment policy in the last five years. Though heavily redacted, they detail graphic emails, texts and statements of unwelcome sexual behavior and crude language.

The release of documents comes after several high-profile faculty and staff members were revealed to have violated university sexual harassment policies, forcing UC Berkeley and the larger UC system to re-evaluate how they handle such allegations. After an investigation in June found that famed astronomer and campus professor Geoffrey Marcy violated such policies but was not formally disciplined, UC President Janet Napolitano created a joint committee to review how the university handles harassment cases between faculty and students.

On March 8, Choudhry’s then-executive assistant Tyann Sorrell filed a lawsuit against Choudhry and the UC Board of Regents for sexual harassment. Choudhry subsequently resigned after backlash from students and faculty over his behavior and original punishment, seen by many as too mild given the allegations. Less than one week later, termination proceedings began against Cal men’s basketball assistant coach Yann Hufnagel after he was found by a campus investigation to have violated UC sexual harassment policy.Print

“I’m shocked at what appears to have been a deliberate suppression of years of sexual abuse and harassment information on the part of executive level at UC Berkeley,” Sorrell said in a Wednesday statement after the OPHD reports were released. “I worked on that campus since 2012 and never heard anything about any of these cases.”

The revelations, which left the UC Berkeley community reeling, precipitated sweeping campus action. On March 24, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced a series of reforms to the handling of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which include granting OPHD more resources to speed the process of investigations, totaling millions of dollars over the next several years.

Then, on Tuesday, Dirks announced a new committee on campus sexual misconduct tasked with reviewing campus adjudication and sanctioning practices regarding sexual harassment and sexual violence against campus students, staff and faculty, among other policies.

(The recent release of reports) really doesn’t alter the picture. … This is just new information,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “There are obviously things that campus leadership was aware of, and (it’s) part of the reason we’ve announced all the things we’ve announced and acknowledged very explicitly that we’ve got work to do.”

Among the subjects of the newly surfaced investigations include Todd Mulzet, the Cal diving coach, who was accused of sexual harassment over the course of more than a year and a half. Mulzet regularly made sexually harassing comments toward the complainant, a male co-worker, according to allegations included in the investigation, many of which were corroborated by a witness. Ultimately, OPHD determined that Mulzet more likely than not violated UC policy on sexual harassment.

Mulzet denied the accusations in an interview with an investigator, alleging that the co-worker spoke out as a form of retaliation because Mulzet had expressed frustration over the co-worker’s job performance.

Though the OPHD investigation was completed Nov. 11, it took more than a month for associate athletic directors Jennifer Simon-O’Neill and Jay John to issue any discipline. Mulzet was sanctioned by a reduction in pay of 5 percent over two months — constituting $455.30 — in lieu of suspension. While a no-contact directive for the co-worker was discussed, the complainant rejected it as an option, saying that he would still be able to perform his work as required given that Mulzet “no longer made sexual comments towards him.”  

The other staff members investigated included a custodian who resigned after being accused of watching a student while she showered; two superintendents suspended after being found to have made sexualized comments about an employee in her absence; a painter fired after allegedly being caught engaging in sexual activity in a vacant University Village apartment; a researcher who resigned after a co-worker reported being inappropriately touched by him; and Nori Castillo, the co-founder of Skydeck, who had his employment contract terminated last month after OPHD concluded that he more likely than not subjected a co-worker to “unwelcome attention of a sexualized nature.”

“I’m shocked at what appears to have been a deliberate suppression of years of sexual abuse and harassment information on the part of executive level at UC Berkeley.”

— Tyann Sorrell

A 2015 investigation of former adjunct faculty member Howard D’abrera found that his conduct toward one of his statistics students was unwelcome, of a sexual nature and interfered with the student’s education. According to the investigation, which concluded Dec. 16, D’abrera repeatedly emailed the student with invitations to Hawaii and other far-off locales and brought up the subject of orgies, and he threatened the student with a lower grade in the class if the student did not accept the invitation.

D’abrera was placed on administrative leave Sept. 14, the same day the complaint was sent to OPHD. One day later, D’abrera sent an email to the student telling him to “picket (the statistics department chair’s) office every hour until he rescinds his ban” on D’abrera, adding that “this is off the record and I never emailed you at all.”

D’abrera resigned Jan. 15, though a disciplinary letter was sent Dec. 18 stating the campus’s intent to dismiss D’abrera effective Jan. 18. Telling OPHD investigators that “he would not have a reason to proposition someone sexually,” D’abrera has contested the campus’s approach to handling accusations after the Marcy incident.

The problem now is that after that astronomy professor who really was guilty of harassment, every time a student makes an allegation of sexual harassment, (the campus) automatically assumes the student is right and the professor or admin person is dismissed,” D’abrera said in an interview with the Daily Cal. “Now that can’t be fair, because a student who doesn’t like their grade — all they have to do is say, ‘This professor touched me on the knee,’ and the guy is out.

An investigation from the Disabled Students’ Program that concluded Sept. 20, 2011, found that former student disability specialist Scott Anderson sent several inappropriate emails to a student in the program with sexual innuendo and sexual jokes in 2008 and 2009. In July 2009, after the complainant wrote an email that said, “Kiss my ass,” Anderson responded, “Kiss it? Only after I spanked it. Always cute.” He resigned six days later.

Anderson could not recall several of these inappropriate emails, according to the investigation. The ones he could remember were often “an attempt to humor her, to lift her spirits up,” Anderson told investigators, adding that they were in response to the “commerce of language that she brought to bear.”

“The fact that all of these findings of sexual harassment were hidden sends a terrible message to potential perpetrators — that you can get away with sexual harassment and any discipline against you will be swept under the carpet,” said Sorrell’s attorney, John Winer, in a Wednesday statement after the 11 OPHD reports previously not made public were released.

None of the respondents involved in the newly released OPHD reports, aside from D’abrera, could be reached for comment.

The campus and university are slated to roll out a number of sexual harassment measures in the coming months. Campus employees will be required to complete a new sexual harassment training course by May 1. The newly announced chancellor’s committee will bring recommendations to Napolitano and Dirks by Oct. 15.

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks, Katy Abbott and Melissa Wen at [email protected].