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Lesson learned: When unwelcome sexual conduct leads to a suspension

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  • told Roe that he was not paying attention to her words and was instead imagining what was under her dress when she asked for a professional evaluation of her presentation
  • insinuated that she manipulated the romantic or sexual interest of her co-author to become the lead author of the paper
  • continued to sexualize the conversation after she made additional feedback requests for her scholarly work and after she tried to deflect his sexualized attention

Disciplinary decision upheld

In the case of O’Brien v. Regents of the University of California, the California Court of Appeal for the First District affirmed the judgment of the trial court. The professor harassed and/or discriminated against the MIT student, who was considered his colleague under the Faculty Code of Conduct, the appellate court said.

A rule of the university required it to initiate disciplinary action within three years of receiving a misconduct report. This rule prevented the regents from disciplining the professor based on the 2014 anonymous complaint, the appellate court held.

Over three years passed without any notice to the professor that the university would be pursuing disciplinary charges relating to the 2014 complaint, which was investigated formally, the appellate court said.

However, the appellate court determined that the university’s rule did not bar the disciplinary action relating to Jane Roe because the university initiated a formal disciplinary proceeding within three years after receiving her report.

Roe made a complaint that was substantively different from the 2014 complaint, the appellate court found. She complained about the way the professor treated her during the 2012 conference and not about U.C. Berkeley’s academic environment, the appellate court said.

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