A big day for 2 or­phaned dream­ers

Women say school of­fi­cials failed to act on com­plaints about a history pro­fes­sor.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Carla Rivera carla.rivera@latimes.com Twit­ter: @Car­laR­iver­alat

A lit­tle help and a lot of grit pay off on grad­u­a­tion day for kids who were about as down as you can get.

Two fe­male grad­u­ate stu­dents have filed suit, al­leg­ing that UCLA of­fi­cials failed to act on com­plaints that a history pro­fes­sor had sex­u­ally ha­rassed them.

In a fed­eral law­suit filed last week, the stu­dents al­lege that Gabriel Piter­berg made sug­ges­tive com­ments and un­wanted ad­vances — such as press­ing him­self against their bod­ies and forc­ing his tongue into their mouths.

Univer­sity of­fi­cials, the women said, urged them to keep quiet and not pur­sue for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

As a re­sult, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, Ne­fer­titi Takla and Kris­ten Hil­laire Glas­gow have en­dured emo­tional dis­tress and are fear- ful of re­turn­ing to cam­pus, which has dam­aged their stud­ies.

Piter­berg did not re­spond Mon­day to a re­quest for com­ment.

In a state­ment, UCLA said the univer­sity “is com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing an en­vi­ron­ment free from ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion and en­sur­ing due process for all mem­bers of our com­mu­nity. The facts of this case are com­plex, and due to the pri­vacy rights of all in­volved, we are pro­hib­ited from mak­ing fur­ther com­ment.”

The law­suit comes as univer­si­ties na­tion­wide are un­der pres­sure to im­prove their han­dling of sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions. UCLA is one of dozens of cam­puses cur­rently un­der re­view by the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion for pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tions of Ti­tle IX, the equal ed­u­ca­tion law that bars sex­ual dis­crim­i­na­tion.

In a 2014 re­port, Cal­i­for­nia State Au­di­tor Elaine M. Howle found that the West­wood cam­pus — as well as three other col­leges — had failed to “en­sure that all fac­ulty and staff are suf­fi­ciently trained on re­spond­ing to and re­port­ing stu­dent in­ci­dents of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and sex­ual vi­o­lence.”

Stu­dents, Howle said, were not be­ing ap­pro­pri­ately ed­u­cated about those is­sues ei­ther.

In an in­ter­view, Glas­gow said that she hoped the law- suit would lead UCLA to re­form its poli­cies.

“There’s a huge power play in the hi­er­ar­chy in grad­u­ate school pro­grams be­tween pro­fes­sors and stu­dents, and we’re hop­ing by putting this into the open there will be more eq­uity in how fe­males in academia are treated,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, Piter­berg be­gan ha­rass­ing Glas­gow in 2008 and con­tin­ued un­til 2013. But she was re­luc­tant to com­plain be­cause he sat on a com­mit­tee that al­lo­cated de­part­men­tal fund­ing for grad­u­ate stu­dents. She con­fided in UCLA’s then-Ti­tle IX co­or­di­na­tor Pamela Thomason, the suit said, af­ter learn­ing that Takla had filed a sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaint against Piter­berg.

Glas­gow said her com­plaint was never in­ves­ti­gated.

“I was shocked, dis­heart­ened and dis­il­lu­sioned,” Glas­gow said. “This was my life’s pas­sion, to be in academia and to do re­search, and this is one of those mo­ments when I’ve had to re­think ev­ery­thing.”

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, Piter­berg was act­ing as Takla’s dis­ser­ta­tion ad­vi­sor when she filed her ha­rass­ment com­plaint. Thomason al­legedly told her that the pro­fes­sor had ad­mit­ted to the “ba­sic facts” but de­nied co­er­cion — and she dis­suaded Takla from re­quest- ing a for­mal hear­ing be­fore the Aca­demic Se­nate by say­ing Piter­berg ’s peers were sure to side with him.

UCLA com­pleted a ninemonth in­ves­ti­ga­tion in March 2014, ac­cord­ing to the suit, but did not pro­vide Takla with in­for­ma­tion about the terms of any res­o­lu­tion reached.

The suit, which names the re­gents of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia as de­fen­dant, al­leges that UCLA also ig­nored sev­eral other com­plaints and re­ports of al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment against Piter­berg.

Thomason is now the Ti­tle IX of­fi­cer for the 23-cam­pus Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity sys­tem. She said Mon­day that she was bound by con­fi­den­tial­ity laws not to dis­cuss the in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

A UCLA spokesman said Piter­berg still was em­ployed by the univer­sity, had taught in win­ter 2015 but did not teach in the spring quar­ter.

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

UCLA’S Royce Hall. In a law­suit, two fe­male grad­u­ate stu­dents say a pro­fes­sor made un­wanted ad­vances.

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