UCSC rape case settled for $1.15 million

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Update 2/06/17: This article has been updated to reflect additional background information about sexual harassment within the UC system. 

The University of California settled with a former UC Santa Cruz student over her allegations that she was raped by an assistant professor for $1.15 million.

The victim, Luz Portillo, alleged in her claim that the assault, committed by the assistant professor and a student employee, took place June 13, 2015 — the day before her graduation. After a Title IX investigation, the assistant professor resigned June 1, 2016. Portillo told the San Francisco Chronicle that she does not know what happened to the student employee.

Portillo’s attorney John Kristensen said Portillo chose to make her name known to the public to humanize sexual assault victims, adding that she was “really brave” to do so.

According to Kristensen, the settlement may be the largest for a campus sexual assault case.

“(My firm) thought the other (Title IX) cases were undervalued and were prepared to proceed,” Kristensen said. “The prior Title IX throughout country have been undervalued.”

The assault took place after the professor had invited Portillo and a student employed by the campus to a wine-tasting event at the Loma Prieta Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

After the wine tasting, the professor and student employee took Portillo to the student employee’s home. At the house, the student employee and professor offered her more wine, and then both performed nonconsensual sexual acts on Portillo, who was drunk to the point of being not fully conscious.

According to a statement from UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal and interim Campus Provost Herbert Lee, the campus had “acted swiftly” upon the victim’s report. Portillo alleged, however, that the professor was removed from campus months after her report.

“The allegations were investigated in confidence, because our campus process respects the rights and privacy of all parties,” Blumenthal and Lee said in the statement. “But we investigated the victim’s claims as soon as she came forward.”

This case comes as the UC system has drawn criticism for alleged mishandling of multiple sexual misconduct cases. In response, the university has appointed Kathleen Salvaty to be the first systemwide Title IX Coordinator to lead sexual misconduct prevention programs and direct adjudication surrounding sexual misconduct allegations involving faculty, staff and students.

According to the UCPD’s 2015 Universitywide Crime Summary, there were 91 rapes in 2015, which was a 75 percent increase from the year before.

Nineteen UC Berkeley employees were found to have violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy between 2011 and April 2016. The former Dean UC Berkeley School of Law, Sujit Choudhry, resigned as dean after allegations of sexual harassment. Choudhry is now a tenured professor at the law school.

Blake Wentworth, an assistant professor in the department of South and Southeast Asian studies, has been on paid leave after sexual harassment allegations.

Additionally, UC Berkeley’s assistant men’s basketball coach, Yann Hufnagel, resigned in April following allegations that he had violated the UC’s sexual misconduct policy. Hufnagel’s resignation came after he attempted to appeal the campus’ decision to fire him, due to his conduct.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced in March plans to increase the resources of the Office for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment in order to speed up  the investigation of sexual harassment and violence cases.

Contact Charlene Jin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharleneJin0327.