Former Cal Dining employee alleges sexual harassment in workplace

Paolo Harris Paz/Staff

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Editor’s Note: The alleged accused’s name has been removed from this article after additional information regarding the incident was provided. 

Editor’s Note: A student supervisor name has been removed from this article after additional information regarding the incident was provided. 

Update 2/22/2020: this article has been updated to include input from the student supervisor.

Update 2/21/2020: this article has been updated to include input from the alleged accused.

Allegations against Cal Dining surfaced on Twitter on Feb. 16 when a former Cal Dining student employee claimed her former coworker sexually harassed her but was not fired.

Campus freshman Ava Olson alleged that during one of her shifts, a coworker  told her that women “belong in the kitchen.” Later, Olson also alleged that he sent her a “sexist” direct message on Instagram.

“If I was back in Saudi Arabia where women are in their right place I’d be having more fun, but alas you degenerates here give females rights,” the Instagram direct message read.

Olson also alleged that throughout her time working with this coworker, she heard him make anti-Semitic and racist comments.

“Quitting @caldining because they won’t fire the guys who sexually harassed you,” Olson alleged in an Instagram story. “Including the one who made holocaust jokes called for genocide against Jewish people said he should be allowed to say the n word as a non Black person told several female employees they belong in the kitchen and then later told me I had an obligation to give him a blowjob.”

Olson alleged that she — along with three other co-workers — made complaints about the alleged harasser’s behavior to their supervisor late November 2019. Olson added that she included her student supervisor in her complaint.

The coworker, however, alleged that Olson had confirmed with him that she was “okay with those kinds of jokes.” Their conversations over Instagram direct messages were taken out of context as well, according to the coworker, who alleged that Olson made similar jokes about women.

“She was laughing,” he said. “Other people were laughing as well.”

Regarding the alleged Holocaust joke, the coworker said he had been in an argument with Olson and three other coworkers in which they all disagreed on whether President Donald Trump was anti-Semitic. He denied calling for anyone’s deaths.

Olson alleged that the aforementioned student supervisor  would often encourage and participate in offensive conversations with the coworker.

“I asked (the student supervisor), ‘Isn’t it kind of weird when he says things like this?’ and he said, ‘You need to learn to take a joke’,” Olson alleged.

The student supervisor, in the same vein as the coworker, said in an email that he saw both the coworker and Olson exchanging similar jokes as well. It seemed, according to the student supervisor, that the two “were interacting positively, passing the boring times in the dining hall between rushes.”

Additionally, the student supervisor denied Olson’s allegations that he was dismissive with Olson and told her to “take a joke.”

After having an in-person conversation with another supervisor, Olson said she was told her complaint was reported to the campus Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination and that central management “is aware of this.”

Olson and the coworker’s interactions began near the end of October and continued into November, according to the coworker. After she filed the complaint, Olson said she left the shift she shared with the coworker to avoid working with him — cutting down her work hours by one third.

After Olson switched shifts, the coworker also said their interactions stopped. He also alleged that Olson never acted uncomfortable until November and that, when she said she was uncomfortable with certain topics, he stopped pursuing them.

On Feb. 15, however, Olson said she decided to quit her job after working her first full shift of the spring semester with the student supervisor.

“I realized I wasn’t being supported at all by management,” Olson said. “I didn’t feel sort of safe at all working there.”

After Olson’s shift on Nov. 11, however, the student supervisor said in an email that he did not work on another shift with Olson. He also noted in his email that there was another student supervisor present during his first shift with Olson and the coworker, a campus junior, because he was still being trained as a student supervisor during these shifts.

Olson and the student supervisor only shared four shifts wherein he was the lead, according to the student supervisor. 

Olson had originally posted about her experience on her Instagram account. But when campus freshman Yulissa Oceguera Barragan saw Olson’s story, she decided to repost it on Twitter hoping it would gain attention and compel UC Berkeley students to email Cal Dining and share their own reactions to Olson’s story. As of press time, the tweet has nearly 250 likes.

A former Cal Dining student employee, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said in an email that she was not surprised to hear what happened to Olson.

“If I am being honest, I wasn’t shocked at all. It seemed like something that (Clark Kerr) dining would do cause they have been complacent about other HR issues (outside sexual assault) in the past,” the anonymous source alleged in the email. “In fact, that was one of the reasons why I quit.”

Olson also alleged that her coworker has not been fired despite multiple complaints filed against him.

Additionally, Olson said she did not see her coworker at the mandatory, one-day sexual harassment prevention training.

The coworker said he did not know Olson reported him to their supervisor nor was he told the specific allegations against him, only that someone had filed a complaint. The only complaint against him he was made aware of was of his discussion of politics, which he was told to stop discussing in the workplace.

The UC Berkeley administration cannot comment on Olson’s specific allegations, according to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff, who added in an email that Cal Dining is dedicated to fostering “an environment free from sexual violence and sexual harassment.”

The Clark Kerr dining hall student supervisor had a sit down with the coworker in early November in regards to the anonymous complaint, according to Olson’s student supervisor, who assumed now that the complaint was from Olson. He said in an email that it was not made clear to him that there was an issue with how he addressed the situation.

“We value all of our dedicated staff here at Cal Dining. This includes our invaluable student employees, who make our daily operations possible,” Ratliff said in an email. “Sexual violence and harassment have no place at Berkeley, where our most important values include treating one another with respect, support, honesty, and integrity.”

By sharing her story, Olson hopes others will have the courage to reach out for support. She added that those who find themselves in a similar situation should document any incidents.

In response to Olson’s story, Oceguera Barragan said in an email that she has not been back to the Clark Kerr dining hall.

“I do not feel welcome in an environment that hires people who make inappropriate comments about different identities, including my own identity as a woman,” Oceguera Barragan said in the email. “I hope people have expressed concerns and I hope that Cal Dining does the right thing.”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.