2 UCLA graduate students settle sex harassment suit

Jintak Han/Daily Bruin/Courtesy

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After a more-than-yearlong legal battle, two UCLA graduate students settled their sexual harassment case against the UC Board of Regents last week.

The students, Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Glasgow, alleged that they were repeatedly sexually harassed by UCLA history professor Gabriel Piterberg in a lawsuit against the UC Board of Regents in June 2015. In addition, the graduate students alleged that the university violated Title IX through its deliberate indifference, with UCLA sustaining a “sexually hostile” environment when handling the case.

Last Thursday, UCLA and the two graduate students agreed to settle the lawsuit. The regents will pay one student $350,000 and the other $110,000 while providing her with a dissertation year fellowship. The settlement did not dictate which student received which award, but Glasgow planned to submit her dissertation in December 2015, according to the complaint.

“The settlement was a way to start a dialogue about Title IX cases,” Glasgow said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I’m happy that UCLA came to the table and talked to us, but I still don’t understand why Professor Piterberg is still able to teach at UCLA, especially undergraduates.”

The graduate students’ complaint alleged that Piterberg talked openly about his sex life and made unwanted sexual advances toward both students. The complaint also alleged that Piterberg attempted to kiss Takla, and, in one interaction, “began caressing her upper back and neck, and rubbing his hands over her hair,” before forcing his tongue in her mouth. Glasgow alleged that Piterberg also forced his tongue into her mouth and sexually harassed her for several years.

After Takla filed a complaint in 2013 with the UCLA Title IX office, Piterberg and UCLA reached a resolution agreement in 2014 that suspended him for a quarter without pay, required him to attend sexual harassment training and imposed restrictions on his contact with students, according to a statement from UCLA spokesperson Tod Tamberg.

Judge Christina Snyder of the US District Court for the Central District of California denied UCLA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in November 2015. Synder said in her motion that Takla’s allegations made a “plausible claim that UCLA’s response to her report of sexual harassment was deficient.”

In 2016, Piterberg resigned from his appointment as a visiting scholar at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy after a petition circulated calling for his removal, according to the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student paper.

Since the alleged violations have come to light, the university has enacted a number of changes in the past two years. UCLA administrators have created the new UCLA Equity, Diversity and Inclusion office and hired Kathleen Salvaty as its new Title IX coordinator, Tamberg said in the statement. The UC system and UCLA have also implemented new policies and procedures on sexual harassment and sexual violence.

This settlement comes at a time when UC Berkeley is dealing with its own sexual harassment crises.

In March, Tyann Sorrell, former executive assistant to former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry, sued the dean for sexual harassment and the regents for failure to take adequate action. While the dean later resigned from his administrative position, Choudhry returned to campus this fall as a faculty member at Berkeley Law, leading to student outcry.

Last October, astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy resigned after news broke that he had sexually harassed several of his astronomy students.

Former campus vice chancellor for research Graham Fleming resigned in April 2015 after allegations arose that he had sexually harassed a former campus employee. He remains on campus as a professor of chemistry.

In total, 19 campus employees were found to have violated UC sexual misconduct policies in the past five years.

Leslie Levy, Sorrell’s lawyer in her sexual harassment case against Choudhry, explained that a settlement in a lawsuit isn’t uncommon.

“Somewhere between 85 to 90 percent of cases filed settle before they ever get to a jury trial,” Levy said. “They can settle anywhere along the way. When the parties have discussion about settlement it’s very individualized. In many cases settlement discussion happens multiple times.”

UC Berkeley has settled a Title IX case with faculty at least once before, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. In 2007, Karen Moe Humphreys, a campus swimming coach and administrator, received more than $3.5 million to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit against the regents. Humphreys had alleged that she lost her job in retaliation for complaining about the campus athletic department’s treatment of female employees.

Piterberg could not be reached for comment. For the 2016-17 academic year, Piterberg is restricted to teaching two upper-division courses during each winter and spring quarter, according to a departmental memo. The memo also states that he will only be allowed to use his office on weekends and only on an as-needed basis. He is no longer allowed to meet one-on-one with students outside of office hours, the memo states, and during office hours — which will be held at a room in a campus library — he must keep the door open at all times.

“My future hope is that this never happens again with any professor,” Glasgow said. “I hope that we have kicked off a national conversation about Title IX.”

Contact Austin Weinstein and Charlotte Margarete Kosche at [email protected].

The credit for the courtesy photo attached to a previous version of this article misspelled Daily Bruin photographer Jintak Han’s name.