State defends Weber State in sexual harassment case, accuses professor of misconduct | Education
OGDEN – State attorneys have responded in federal court to allegations by a former psychology student that Weber State University downplayed and obstructed her complaints of sexual harassment against a professor.
The woman, identified only as Jane Doe in U.S. District Court documents, filed a civil action in May 2020, alleging she suffered racial and gender discrimination, sexual harassment and misconduct on a six-year period starting in 2011.
The Utah attorney general’s office, which represents the university in the case, filed a formal response to the lawsuit on April 27 and also informed the court that it had made a settlement offer to the woman and to his lawyer.
The response denied many of the allegations and blamed the professor and the woman on some of the alleged questions.
The lawsuit alleged that the school’s Title IX compliance office initially ignored a complaint she filed about another teacher who she said had asked her poorly about her Mexican heritage.
Then, after the student received counseling and therapy from the psychology professor from 2013 to 2017, she filed a Title IX complaint against him for alleged inappropriate treatment techniques and unethical behavior.
She also filed a report with the Ogden Police Department, accusing them of physically inappropriate intimate contact. The Davis County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the case and declined to press charges.
The lawsuit cited in a May 2, 2019 report by an attorney general’s office investigator concluding that the professor’s conduct towards the woman “ was more than likely unwanted (and) was more than likely serious (and) ran the risk of creating a hostile environment. . “
The actions violated the university’s discrimination and harassment policy, the report concluded, according to the lawsuit.
A follow-up report by a deputy attorney general concluded that the professor had violated a policy that “clearly excludes romantic or sexual relationships where there is an imbalance of power in the relationship,” the lawsuit said.
In addition, that report cited alleged taped comments in which the professor admitted that his therapeutic relationship with the woman “had come too close.” He added that “there were feelings of excitement for both of us” and that the contacts “seemed inappropriate”.
After the head of the university recommended that the full professor be put on unpaid leave of absence for a year, the woman complained and filed a formal complaint with the faculty review board. The board ultimately determined that the disciplinary action against the professor was insufficient and that the dismissal was necessary, according to the lawsuit.
The professor resigned on January 15, 2020, according to the lawsuit. He was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit and did not respond to requests for comment on the case.
Weber State, the attorney general said in response to the lawsuit, “denies any implication that it was necessary to open (the professor) an investigation before Doe files his formal complaint.”
The state also notified its intention to attribute the fault to the professor. In civil proceedings, juries are often asked to divide the percentages of fault among the parties considered responsible.
“The factual and legal basis on which fault can be attributed is that (the professor) intentionally caused injury to the complainant and he is solely responsible for her injuries,” the response said.
The attorney general also argued that Weber State has an effective policy for reporting and remedying sexual harassment and that the woman “unreasonably failed to avail herself of the WSU’s preventive and corrective measures.”
Further, the response stated that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the woman “consented to the conduct complaint” and “failed to report the alleged harassment to an appropriate person.”
Further, he stated that “WSU did not have sufficient control over the alleged harasser and did not control the context of the alleged harassment.”
Asked Tuesday to comment on the response and the settlement offer, the university released this statement:
“The Attorney General’s office has asked the Weber State to maintain the confidentiality of any settlement negotiations between the parties in the Doe case. Any questions regarding this dispute should be directed to this office for response. “
Deputy Attorney General Darin Goff declined to comment on Tuesday afternoon, saying the office was not discussing settlement negotiations and ongoing litigation.