3 Berke­ley stu­dents sue UC

The univer­sity sys­tem is ac­cused of fail­ing to prop­erly re­spond to com­plaints of sex­ual as­sault.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Teresa Watan­abe teresa.watan­abe@latimes.com Twit­ter: @Tere­saWatan­abe

Three cur­rent and for­mer UC Berke­ley stu­dents sued the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia on Mon­day for al­legedly fail­ing to prop­erly re­spond to their sex­ual as­sault com­plaints, as­sert­ing that ad­min­is­tra­tors did not act quickly enough or ad­e­quately pe­nal­ize per­pe­tra­tors found re­spon­si­ble.

The civil law­suit, f iled in Alameda County Su­pe­rior Court, ac­cused UC re­gents of “de­lib­er­ate in­dif­fer­ence” in three 2012 cases, sex dis­crim­i­na­tion, fraud and fail­ure to prop­erly ed­u­cate stu­dents about sex­ual mis­con­duct and en­act poli­cies to han­dle and pre­vent such be­hav­ior.

“They ab­so­lutely failed to re­spond to these charges in any man­ner that could be con­sid­ered ad­e­quate,” said Ir­win M. Zalkin, an at­tor­ney for the plain­tiffs. “There was de­lib­er­ate and ut­ter in­dif­fer­ence to these girls.”

In a state­ment, UC Berke­ley spokes­woman Janet Gil­more said of­fi­cials would re­serve com­ment on the law­suit un­til they re­viewed it. But she said a state au­dit found that Berke­ley’s han­dling of sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment cases in 2013- 14 were “rea­son­able and that sanc­tions were ap­pro­pri­ate given the sever­ity of the in­ci­dents.”

The cam­pus has also “made great strides” in beef­ing up ef­forts against sex­ual as­sault, Gil­more said. In the last year, Berke­ley of­fi­cials have barred stu­dents from en­rolling un­til they take train­ing cour­ses in al­co­hol and sex­ual as­sault aware­ness, hired a con­fi­den­tial ad­vo­cate to pro­vide emo­tional sup­port and help to stu­dents nav­i­gat­ing the re­port­ing process, in­creased in­ves­ti­ga­tors, strength­ened com- plainant’s rights and cre­ated a sup­port web­site, among other ac­tions.

The ef­forts ref lect a broader cam­paign by UC off icials, who un­veiled a sys­temwide plan last year to com­bat sex­ual mis­con­duct amid pres­sure from the White House and fed­eral author­i­ties to do so. In the last three years, the U. S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion has launched more in­ves­ti­ga­tions than ever be­fore.

The depart­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Berke­ley, UCLA, USC and sev­eral other pri­vate and public cam­puses af­ter stu­dents f iled com­plaints with the fed­eral agency al­leg­ing the schools mis­han­dled their cases. Among them, 31 cur­rent and for­mer Berke­ley stu­dents filed two com­plaints against the univer­sity last year al­leg­ing of­fi­cials for years have dis­cour­aged vic­tims from re­port­ing as­saults, failed to in­form them of their rights and led a bi­ased ju­di­cial process that fa­vored as­sailants’ rights over those of vic­tims.

The three Berke­ley plain- tiffs in the new law­suit were among those who f iled fed­eral com­plaints last year.

Sofie Karasek, 22, a se­nior, who al­leged that she was fon­dled by a fel­low stu­dent while she slept dur­ing a trip to San Diego with the UC Berke­ley Democrats Club dur­ing her fresh­man year in 2012. She said univer­sity of­fi­cials failed to prop­erly in­form her about the com­plaint process and keep her up­dated on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, nor did they al­low her to par­tic­i­pate in a dis­ci­plinary hear­ing.

Aryle But­ler, 21, a May grad­u­ate, ac­cused a guest lec­turer of re­peat­edly touch­ing her in­ap­pro­pri­ately while she par­tic­i­pated in the Alaska Wild­lands Stud­ies Pro­gram in sum­mer 2012. In the law­suit, she said she re­ported the al­leged as­saults to univer­sity of­fi­cials but was ad­mon­ished about the con­se­quences of false re­ports and that no ac­tion ap­pears to have been taken against the lec­turer.

Ni­co­letta Com­mins, 23, a grad­u­ate stu­dent, re- ported to Berke­ley po­lice that a fel­low stu­dent, Ni­cholas Liou, sex­u­ally as­saulted her in her apart­ment in Jan­uary 2012. Liou was con­victed of felony as­sault, Zalkin said, and the univer­sity sus­pended him for more than two years but plans to al­low him to re­turn to cam­pus; Com­mins be­lieves he should have been ex­pelled. Like the oth­ers, she also said univer­sity of­fi­cials did not give her ad­e­quate in­for­ma­tion about the process or in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Zalkin said that UC Berke­ley’s re­cent ac­tions to im­prove its han­dling of sex­ual mis­con­duct cases were still not good enough. “Maybe a civil law­suit will be a way to sen­si­tize [ UC of­fi­cials] to im­ple­ment bet­ter poli­cies,” he said.

The law­suit seeks un­spec­i­fied dam­ages for loss of ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, emo­tional pain and psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress.

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