UC system’s sexual harassment payouts total more than $3M over 3 years

Michael Drummond/File
UCLA senior Savannah Badalich and UC Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance and Audit Officer Sheryl Vacca answer questions from the UC Regents at a 2014 meeting on sexual assault across UC campuses.

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The University of California has paid out about $3.4 million in sexual harassment claim settlements in the past three years, according to a recent report by the Sacramento Bee.

Agencies and public universities in California have paid more than $25 million altogether over three fiscal years, costing taxpayers in California about $21.3 million, according to the report. The UC system paid the second-highest amount among state agencies.

The Sacramento Bee reported that although other state institutions — such as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation — use taxpayer dollars to fund their lawsuits, the university systems, including the UC system, use an insurance plan instead.

Claire Doan, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, stated that this insurance system, called Fiat Lux Risk and Insurance Company, or Fiat Lux, requires UC campuses to pay an insurance premium in order to be covered. Fiat Lux was formed by the UC Board of Regents to “reduce UC’s cost of traditional insurance, while giving it greater control over the various risks for which it is responsible,” according to the UC “Working Smarter” website.

Doan said Fiat Lux reflects the complexity of the UC system, as it represents not only campuses but medical centers and national laboratories as well. She added that the UC system, a “$31.5 billion enterprise,” is the state’s third-largest employer.

“Aside from state funds, campuses could choose to pay their insurance premiums through various sources, including medical center revenues, housing revenues, investment income and campus fees,” Doan said in an email.

This information comes in relation to a UC Berkeley sexual harassment suit filed by Tyann Sorrell in 2016 against former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry. The case ended in a landmark $1.7 million payout.

Leslie Levy, who represented Sorrell in her sexual harassment lawsuit, said she believed the UC system was self-insured but was uncertain where that money came from.

“I’ve sued the UC more than once, I’ve never seen an insurance policy, I’ve never seen anything related to a separate insurance company,” Levy said. “The fact that they are saying it’s not taxpayer dollars does not mean it’s not coming ultimately from the public, and I just don’t think some big foundation granted them a bunch of money.”

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that premiums for the campus’s self-insurance programs totaled about $14 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year but added that the premium accounts for less than 0.5 percent of the campus budget.

Recent systemwide implementation of measures addressing sexual violence and sexual assault issues have contributed to higher incident reporting levels, according to Doan.

“We believe the enhanced education, training and awareness among the UC community helped encourage people to come forward with concerns,” Doan said in the email. “The number of complaints reflects their willingness to reach out to our Title IX offices as well as our efforts to promote a safer environment.”

Mary Kelly Ford covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MaryKellyFord1.