3 UC Merced employees violated UC sex misconduct policy in last 2 years, documents show

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Three University of California, Merced employees, including a faculty member and an athletic staff member, were found to have violated UC sexual violence and sexual harassment policy in the past two years.

Documents obtained through a California Public Records Act, or CPRA, request by The Daily Californian uncovered multiple marriage proposals, inappropriate comments about female complainants’ physical appearances and propositions for a massage.

UC Merced spokesperson James Leonard said in an email that the campus takes allegations of “improper behavior” seriously.

“We investigate all complaints fully to determine whether wrongdoing occurred, and if so, act swiftly to ensure that our students, faculty and staff are able to enjoy a safe, peaceful and welcoming environment,” Leonard said in an email.

The campus declined to comment further.

These documents are part of a series of CPRA requests made by the Daily Cal in order to inform and to update the database of over 130 sexual misconduct cases from throughout the UC system since October 2010.

UC Merced Office of Campus Climate and Compliance lead investigator Jim O’Connell compiled the reports, which included redacted names and individual’s positions. The individuals who brought forth the allegations are referred to as “complainants” and those accused of harassment are referred to as “respondents.”

These allegations were reported and investigated under the new UC sexual violence and sexual harassment policy implemented in 2016, which included a new definition of “responsible employee” and outlined a framework for reporting and handling complaints.

All reports evaluated evidence based on the “preponderance of evidence” standard, which deems something to be a fact when its occurrence is more likely than not.

Here are the details of each case summarized:

Lewd comments

The allegations in the first report, dated June 2016, were largely about a respondent who allegedly made inappropriate comments regarding female student employees.

The complainant alleged that the respondent “used inappropriate language” including calling them “Mama,” and “Ms. Thang,” according to the report. The complainant also alleged that the respondent made comments about a female employee’s cleavage area.

Descriptions of the respondent’s comments by the complainant and witnesses range from “uncomfortable” to “offensive, weird and awkward.” One individual said the respondent’s comments made them “feel uncomfortable as a woman.”

The respondent confirmed in the report that he called female employees “Mama” and did not deny using the term “Ms. Thang” or commenting on a female employee’s cleavage. He was subsequently suspended for two days without pay in December 2016.

Inappropriate touching

The second report, dated January 2017, highlighted the experiences of two complainants, both members of a UC Merced athletic team, who alleged that a member of the athletic staff slapped their inner thighs. The reports indicate that the respondent said the incident “might have occurred” and acknowledged that slapping athletes’ inner thighs was a practice he “had been doing … for twenty years.”

The respondent offered various rationalizations for his actions such as “loosening up an athlete,” interacting with athletes or “checking to see if their muscles were sore,” according to the report’s findings.

“I use my hands all the time,” the respondent said in the report.

When asked if he thought his behavior was “OK,” the respondent replied, “in retrospect, no, it’s not OK.”

The first complainant said that when the respondent approached and slapped her between her thighs, it made her feel “uncomfortable.”

Although the name of the respondent was redacted, the end of the document included a resignation letter submitted February 2017 by David Noble, then associate director of recreation and athletics at UC Merced.

Unwanted verbal and physical advances

In a report dated March 2017, a respondent allegedly sexually harassed three co-workers — who will be referred to as first, second and third complainants — by sending them “inappropriate” emails, criticizing their clothes and propositioning for a massage.

The respondent was evaluated for compliance with Academic Personnel Manual 015, the UC faculty code of conduct, which sets standards for ethics and conduct of faculty members.

Through emails and in person, the respondent confessed his attraction to the first and second complainants, respectively. In a May 2012 email to the first complainant, the respondent wrote, “I can not look at you without struggling with my desires.”

The third complainant alleged that the respondent said she had a “nice ass” twice, proposed to the third complainant “at least once a month” and propositioned her to massage his leg — all of which the respondent maintained was a “joke.”

In July 2017, the respondent received a warning letter mandating sexual harassment prevention training and the presence of a faculty supervisor when meeting with female students, according to the report.

O’Connell could not be reached for comment as of press time.

This is a developing story, and The Daily Californian will provide updates as additional information becomes available. Please check back for updates.

Contact Katherine Yen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @k_yen14.