Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination according to federal and New York State laws. While not every sexist remark made in the workplace rises to the level of harassment, when there is a pattern of misconduct that is allowed to go unchecked by management, an employee (or former employee) has the right to file a sex discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Filing an EEOC complaint is the first step towards bringing a civil lawsuit if the agency declines to act on the affected employee's behalf.
Complaint: Professor “Relentlessly Pursued” Sexual Relationships With Subordinates
Recently, a group of eight current and former professors and graduate students filed an EEOC complaint against the University of Rochester (UR) in upstate New York. The complaint alleges UR failed to “act appropriately against a faculty member who has engaged in sexual harassment and has created a hostile work environment for graduate students.” To the contrary, the complaint alleges UR retaliated against the complainants and others for attempting to address the purported sexual harassment through official university channels.
The accused professor works in UR's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS), which in the past has been ranked as among the best in the country. The complainants allege this professor is a “narcissistic and manipulative sexual predator” who has “abused his position of power to manipulate graduate students and post-docs until they felt almost wholly under his control or in fear of him.” The complainants do not simply accuse the professor of being an aggressive or tyrannical boss. Rather, they say he “relentlessly pursued and engaged in numerous sexual relationships with BCS and visiting students, which he flaunted.”
The complainants further allege the professor:
- Told female students they needed to “please him” personally “and sometimes sexually”–i.e., sleep with him–in order to excel in the BCS program;
- Consistently used “obnoxious and objectifying sexual language” towards women;
- Made women in the Department “feel physically unsafe”;
- Hosted “hot tub parties” where he encouraged female students to use “illegal drugs”; and
- Demanded students “collaborate” with him so that he could later take sole credit for their work.
As a result of the professor's conduct, the complainants allege approximately one dozen female graduate students lost “educational opportunities and valuable training” within the BCS program. The complainants said they reported the professor to UR administrators in March 2016, but the university not only refused to take disciplinary action, but actually promoted him. The complainants said they were then targeted for “retaliation” by UR, who sought to “rehabilitate” the professor's reputation at their expense.
Although the EEOC has yet to act on the complaint–which, it is important to emphasize is merely a statement of allegations–there has already been significant public reaction on the UR campus to the charges. Slate reported on September 14 that UR students and alumni “launched a petition to get the university to terminate” the accused professor and “reevaluate its sexual harassment policies.” The professor was also forced to step down from teaching one of his classes following a threatened “sit-in” protest by students.
Take Action Against Sexual Harassment at Work
Sexual harassment is a serious problem that still affects far too many workplaces in New York. While employers are supposed to have procedures in place to address and remedy harassment complaints, these policies are often poorly maintained, or sometimes not followed at all. That is why, if you are a victim of harassment or any other form of sex discrimination, you need to take independent action. If you need advice from a qualified New York employment law attorney, contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today.