What I'd Like A Second Chance At? Filing a Sexual Harassment Suit

The Chair of my Department was going after me. I could not prove anything, because there were no cameras to film his activity. But I knew it was him. And I had plenty of colleagues who supported me, and agreed with my reasoning – thankfully.

Dr. “W” was sleeping with three students, one of whom I was the advisor for. I’ll call her “L”. L came to me to report that he had been propositioning her, and making threats that he would not “sign off” on her master’s thesis, unless she slept with him. So she did. Several times, in the hopes he would “go away.” She was 25 years old, parents from another country, and only I would be the one to hold her secret.

L knew he was sleeping with two other students, with whom he bragged about to her. When she asked the other two young woman if this was true, they both replied “yes”, but when they went to their own advisors, they were not believed, or told that “it was her word against his.”

After sitting in my office, crying out her story for two hours, I informed my student that I would walk her through the process of reporting this to the university personnel, step by step. Once she informed the Affirmative Action Officer, he believed her also. Eventually, this went to the Dean of the College, and then to the University Provost, the V.P.  And then they both stopped talking to me.

They proceeded to hire an outside lawyer, with whom L would have to tell her entire story a 5th time. I was allowed to sit in with her, and the lawyer proceeded to ask appropriate questions. This lawyer told us she would file her report to proceed with the suit.

During this process, which took over a year, Dr. W was legally informed of what was occurring. It was then that I began to notice various items missing from my office desk. I would come to work each day, and find various papers scattered in several piles. I would find text books on my floor. Various other “clues” were obviously left, which were numerous. I knew that the only other persons to have a key to my office were the janitor (with whom I talked “sports” with, asked about his family, thanked him for his work), and Dr. W – with a master key to all offices.

Our faculty mailboxes were in an open area, where anyone could have access to. Students claimed they left papers in my mailbox. Colleagues could not understand how I never got their memos. Letters being sent from my professional organizations were never received .

I taught evening classes. So when I got to the “closed” faculty garage one night, the air on my tires were let out. Another night, with rain and stormy weather, my windshield wipers were bent back, to make them useless.

At first, I began to “cough” much of this up to possibly working too hard, juggling the life of a parent, soccer/ baseball/ basketball mom, finding time to go out on a date with my husband, trying to publish “or perish” for promotion to tenure, etc. So I questioned my own sanity. And it scared the hell out of me.

But when I had not heard within 10 weeks, if I was to present two papers at a conference which I had applied for, I called the conference chair. He said my papers WERE accepted, but he had never received my letter to confirm. Therefore, he assumed I was unable to attend or changed my mind. I told him I never received the letter, and he informed me that he sent all acceptance letters via “registered mail,” which assured they were received by each department.

It was then that I put it “all together.”  I WAS BEING HARASSED – so that I would not be able to support my student through her entire legal process. I WAS ALSO BEING TRAUMATIZED, and would possibly make a “wrong move” to stop my student’s proceedings.

One wrong move would have been to inform my own student that I was also being harassed, which of course I knew better, not to do. I needed to find that strength that I learned while growing up on the south side.

I got the name of a local lawyer who apparently won many of his cases, similar to mine. I gave him all my notes. His response:  he could win the case for me, and I would probably get about $100,000. However, he said that the university would support “their guy at all costs”, and try to drag my name through the mud. They had their own reputation and secret to hold onto. They would find every bit of information they could, to prove to a jury I had “led him on,” or that my marriage was in shambles, or I was stressed, or going through early menopause, or trying to “get back at him” for “f##king the student I was advising,” etc. etc.

He said the university would keep going and going until I was beaten down. And they knew I had to keep all information about the student I was helping, with her own lawsuit, confidential. He painted a gloomy picture of what my life would be like for at least two years. So he asked me, “Is the $100,000 worth it to you?”

He asked me what my own professional goals were – and I told him that I wanted to continue being a professor, be respected for my work and continue my private practice. He said it was possible my “good name” would be forever demonized, and I would be questioned regarding my sincerity and truthfulness.

I talked with my husband. The lawyer WAS on my side. That was very clear to me. But is this what I wanted for “my name?” Was it worth it?

No, it was not. Instead, I knew I had to keep going, if not for my student’s sake, but for my own reputation, pride, and career. Thankfully I had immense support from many in my department, a loving husband, and sister – who heard it all.

Eventually, my student whom I advised, did not get her day in court. She wanted to withhold any pain her parents would face. But it did stop him from harassing her. And she did graduate with her master’s degree.

And him?  He failed to fulfill various responsibilities to keep his job, and he had to be “let go,” but not without a struggle.

And the Dean and College Provost?  After this harrowing 1.5 years, they both greeted me with smiles and hugs at the beginning of the school year. convocation.  What did I tell them?  “It’s about f##king time!” and walked away. I felt fantastic. And both of them left within a few years.

So yeah, I’ve thought about what I could have done, had I had a second chance.  Winds up that I was the one who got tenure and promotion. I was the one to get excellent teaching evaluations. I was the one who got along with almost everyone – even across other departments. And I stayed as long as I wanted, till retiring a few years ago.

But really?  I told a professor in the Criminal Justice Department, and she got quite angry at the way “this was handled.” She said, “all you had to do was go to the university police, and they would have put a hidden camera in the mailroom, in your office, and appointed a faculty member from OUR Department to lead the investigation.”

Had I known this, I would have proceeded with her recommendation.  Who knows what could have happened?  That’s one for Mr. Peabody, Sherman, and the Way-Back Machine.


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