The sexual harassment policy at UC Berkeley is under fire because of an alleged hole when it comes to disciplining rule breakers. Last year, four highly-compensated employees who were accused of sexual harassing students or colleagues all received very different punishments, prompting critics to say that the discipline policy is arbitrary and capricious.

An astronomy professor received a warning, the dean of the law school was forced to apologize and lost some pay, a vice chancellor was forced to resign but was later given another great job, and an assistant coach was immediately fired. The critical difference appears to be whether or not the employees had tenure. Those with tenure were allowed to continue on the payroll. They were not referred to a review committee of the academic senate. The academic senate could have recommended revoking tenure, which is the only way to fire a professor. However, once the cases became public, none of the employees were allowed to stay on the campus and work.

UC President Janet Napolitano said that she wishes to establish a panel to oversee discipline decisions for chancellors, deans, coaches, and other senior university leaders who violate the sexual harassment policy. She stated that she wishes to hold people accountable when sexual misconduct occurs.

Currently, at UC Berkeley the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination investigates all reports of sexual misconduct that are brought to its attention. After the investigation is concluded, what happens next depends on whether or not an employee is tenured, is an administrator, or belongs to a labor union.

It is rare for professors to be referred to the tenure committee for misconduct. For example, at UC Berkeley there are 1,620 full-time faculty members, and in most years there is only one hearing about professorial misconduct or no hearings at all. In the case of the astronomy professor, who was accused of groping female students between 2001 and 2010, a report was filed and went to the vice provost for faculty. However, his case was not sent to the tenure committee – instead, campus officials warned him that if he harassed anyone again, he would be fired.

Dozens of students filed two federal complaints under Title IX’s gender discrimination act, claiming that the college acted with deliberate indifference in handling their reports of sexual harassment and assault. Berkeley is one of 55 colleges under federal investigation for failing to comply with Title IX. A lawsuit is currently in the works as well by three women who are claiming that Berkeley mishandled their reports of sexual assault. Many say that Berkeley is getting better at handling sexual misconduct reports about students, but much less is done when the accused is an employee.

Unfortunately, although society as a whole is making a lot of progress towards fairly handling complaints of sexual harassment, there is still much that remains to be done. It’s not uncommon for an employer, such as UC Berkeley, to protect its upper level employees in the event they are accused of sexual harassment.

At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty and Seth I. Rosenberg believe that no employer should be allowed to protect their employees who commit sexual harassment – instead, the employees must be held accountable. If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the Oakland-San Francisco area, call the Oakland sexual harassment attorneys at Liberty Law at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. Our attorneys can help you with your case. Call today to learn more or to schedule a free consultation.

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