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Sexual harassment may signal other issues if not stopped

Sexual harassment in the workplace may just be the tip of the iceberg, depending on the psychology of the harasser. It may be the not so subtle signal of other mental issues percolating in an individual’s mind, waiting for an outlet. Certainly sexual harassment is a clear warning signal that something is wrong. Employers need to pay heed to such behavior and not brush it under the rug or ignore it.

Consider the Homeland Security Department (HSD) case involving a gun battle inside a secure government building, on a secure floor of a southern California office building. Deceased supervisory agent Ezequiel “Zeke” Garcia, 45-years-old at the time of the shoot-out, started a gun battle in 2012 inside the Long Beach offices of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations. Garcia was armed. His target that day, senior regional manager, Kevin Kozak, was not. Perry Woo, his supervisor, killed Garcia with a shot to the back of his head.

According to the Associated Press (AP), who obtained the report on the incident, HSD missed Garcia’s clear warning signals. Had they taken action to deal with Garcia, Kozak may not have sustained severe gun shot wounds to his back, leg, hands and abdomen. Kozak may yet lose his leg and suffers greatly from his debilitating injuries.

Garcia had been the subject of four substantiated sexual harassment complaints. He was heard to complain to co-workers that management were targeting him to demote him despite his 21 years of service.

The report the AP obtained under the auspices of the Freedom of Information Act revealed frightening details that clearly showed Garcia needed help. In fact, it went on to outline that Garcia’s previous supervisor recalled a conversation in which Garcia said the agency “had taken away from him everything that mattered” and that Garcia had to be talked “off the ledge every day in an effort to motivate him to work.”

In summation, the internal HSD investigation report also concluded that Garcia’s behavior and misconduct would have alerted his superiors, had they known his full history — a remark that points out that perhaps no one was really paying attention to his actions, or comprehending what they may mean. Add to the fire that the deceased agent was known to be easygoing may have meant his actions were not given much scrutiny. In other words, no one knew he was capable of such deathly violence on a moment’s notice.

Substantiated sexual harassment charges were just the beginning of the end in this case. Never ignore sexual harassment in the workplace. Pay attention to other signs and signals. Ensure the harasser gets help.

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It’s About Time, UC Berkeley: The Aftermath of the Geoff Marcy Sexual Harassment Debacle

It is enormously disappointing to find out that recently released documents show astronomer Geoff Marcy did not respect the boundaries between students and professors.

If that were not bad enough, UC Berkeley turned a nearly blind eye to the issue and used a heavy-handed, slow as molasses approach to deal with the reported harassment. Nothing says lack of motivation to deal with an issue quite like taking years to deal with numerous reports of sexual harassment by the same individual.

For a number of years now many university campuses have been mired in ugly sexual harassment cases, with accusations that the administration would not take student complaints seriously. When the lid finally blew off the debacle and the truth of the matter was outed, it became apparent that sexual harassment was rampant across the nation. It also was glaringly evident that no one in a position of authority did much about it, other than pay lip service to the notion of punishment. Instead, the issue was swept under the rug and the victim was deemed to be the problem.

It is not rocket science to understand that sexual harassment by a person in a position of authority is against the law. The Marcy case is a good example of a harasser (at first) getting off lightly, until the media published the university’s investigative report of the allegations, four in total, which confirmed he had harassed students. The sky did fall and Marcy was forced to resign.

The complaints were fairly explicit and there seemed to be no clear reason why the university would not take them seriously and take action, other than the possibility that losing Marcy may have affected their funding. Apparently Marcy’s behavior was a well-known hidden secret and yet nothing was done until his actions went public. And so now, an advisory committee is to make recommendations on how to handle sexual violence, harassment and assault cases involving faculty members.

The time to do that was when the first sexual harassment complaint was filed. But better late than never.

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Will the Geoff Marcy scandal change educational institutions’ attitude about sexual harassment?

Geoff Marcy was considered to be an icon in the field of astronomy. He is known worldwide for his work discovering planets in far away solar systems. Now, he is known worldwide for this proclivity to sexually harass students.

The scandal that drove Marcy to resign from UC Berkeley was not just about his actions, but about the inaction of the institution itself in refusing to deal with accusations levelled against him.

The scandal revolving around Marcy’s actions raised questions regarding the university administration’s inaction when accusations were levelled against him. Were they too indifferent or too intimidated to put a stop to a famous man who sexually harassed his female students? Was it too inconvenient to properly address the harassment when the harasser was a star of their astronomy department and of the scientific community?

There may never be a clear answer to that question, but the facts do speak clearly for themselves. Marcy broke the rules, students complained, and the university looked the other way. The scandal took on a life of its own, forcing Marcy to resign from his position at the university and his role as a principal investigator for the Breakthrough Listen project to search for extraterrestrial intelligence, though he had some kind of agreement hammered out that may have allowed him to remain at both.

For years, UC Berkeley administration studiously avoided the Marcy situation, even though many on campus, including his colleagues, knew about his behavior. However, within just five days, once the full scope of Marcy’s actions was revealed to an international audience, Marcy was gone. Was this indicative of a change in attitude on the part of the university or a profound shift in public opinion condemning such behavior?

While it would be gratifying to think educational institutions are fed up with those who push the boundaries and bend or ignore sexual harassment policies, it does not appear that those places of higher education actually want to deal with such behavior. If they did, Marcy would have been properly punished a number of years ago.

It appears the bottom line for many educational edifices and corporate boardrooms continues to be, “Silence is golden to protect the Golden Goose.”

What happened to the basic right of students to expect a good education and feel safe from harassment and abuse while they are in school or at work? Where is it written that it is okay for a famous person to sexually harass students because he or she brings prestige and money to the university or acclaim to a business?

Each individual is accountable for his or her actions — period. When those illegal, unethical and morally corrupt actions are tacitly condoned, the perpetrator is enabled to continue his or her deplorable actions. But they are not invincible. They do eventually pay the price for their actions; but what is the cost to their victims?

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Sexual harassment allegations led to resignation of astronomer Geoff Marcy

Apparently, world-renowned astronomer Geoff Marcy has more than just a solid track record for finding exo-planets. He has a documented, but deliberately squelched track record for sexual harassment while working at two universities in California: University of California, Berkeley, and San Francisco State University (SFSU).

And while it appears that university officials knew about his sexual offenses, nothing was done about it until recently. The court of public opinion turned the tide against him and he was forced to resign from his post. Marcy had run afoul of Berkeley’s sexual harassment policies multiple times between 2001 and 2010. He posted a mea culpa message on his website suggesting he did not realize his behavior caused women distress.

Three women from SFSU say he sexually harassed students there, too, by making lewd remarks, touching and massaging students. Marcy was employed at SFSU for 15 years prior to leaving for Berkeley in 1999. According to a former sexual harassment officer, several women tried to register complaints about him. She also verified she had seen emails written by him at that time to the women in question.

Marcy’s open letter stated, in part: “While I do not agree with each complaint that was made, it is clear that my behavior was unwelcomed by some women. I take full responsibility and hold myself completely accountable for my actions and the impact they had. For that and to the women affected, I sincerely apologize.” According to one complainant, Marcy allegedly thought his actions boosted his female student’s self-esteem, even though he was told to stop.

There was a possibility Marcy would retain his job, while his behavior was to be subjected to rigorous control. When faculty, staff and students discovered there was a possibility he would retain his job despite being found to be in violation of Berkeley’s sexual harassment policies, the uproar demanding his resignation began. Berkeley’s attempt to retain a serial sexual harasser was regarded as hypocritical in that it would strictly go against the reason the university had a sexual harassment policy in place. It was regarded as morally, ethically and legally wrong.

Despite the claims by some, including his wife, who said Marcy’s behavior was merely friendly, his actions were wrong. When he was told to stop, he did not. Sexual harassment is sexual harassment, no matter what one chooses to call it.

If you are facing a situation like this at work, make certain to contact an experienced sexual harassment attorney and find out what your options are and how to proceed to file a lawsuit.

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Sexual Harassment in California high school is finally addressed

The Berkeley Unified School District is being investigated for not properly responding to sexual harassment claims at Berkeley High School. It is not the first time the school has been involved in such an investigation.

In 2010, a male counsellor was accused of sexually harassing a 16-year-old female student. The ultimate outcome of that case involved a payment to the student and an undertaking by the counsellor to keep his door and blinds open when meeting with students.

Failing to respond appropriately to such allegations is a Title IX federal offense. The relevant part of Title IX relates to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded educational program.

A board member of the school district, also serving on their sexual harassment advisory committee that came about in 2010, led the way toward implementing a viable sexual harassment policy after her daughter was inappropriately touched by two boys while she was in eighth grade. However, her calls for such a policy were being stalled. Frustrated, she contacted the Office for Civil Rights, who responded by opening a new investigation into the matter.

Once the investigation was launched, the High School Principal sent a letter home with students proposing plans for sexual harassment training, educational programs for teachers and students and appointing an interim Title IX coordinator.

It appears that something is now being done to address sexual harassment in the school. The issue is that it took so long to get the issue to the table and get something done about it. When people fail to address the issue appropriately, the harassment continues to happen.

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Even high profile attorneys may be accused of sexual harassment

The latest sexual harassment case to hit the airwaves involves accusations made against the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. Deputy District Attorneys Tannaz Mokayef and Beth Silverman allege Gary Hearnsbeger, a prosecutor with 34 years of service behind him, sexually harassed them in and out of the office.

His conduct allegedly included lewd remarks and behavior, and unwanted touching. The timeline indicated in the complaint states his behavior took place in 2011 when he was the lead supervising attorney.

Court documents are painting the picture of a man who played favorites with female attorneys who allegedly engaged in trading sexual favors for choice assignments and promotions, permitted him to grope them or allowed him to banter with them in a sexually graphic manner. The lawsuit also names Los Angeles County as a defendant.

Silverman alleges he walked behind her, placing his hands on her buttocks or hips, inside and outside of the office. He was told to cease and desist and apparently retaliated by starting to criticize her personality and work ethic, calling her out and cursing her in front of others in the office and denying her case assignments. Mokayef also indicated she was the victim of similar behavior and when she rejected him he began screaming at her, verbally abusing her and assigning her stale cases. The cited actions and verbal abuse continued outside of the office, even at family gatherings with other district attorneys.

The accused denies the claims from his new position in the Public Integrity Division. Hearnsberger was not disciplined in any manner and suggests the lawsuit was filed as a result of the two women attempting to retaliate against him for reassigning them from active cases.

There is always more to a story such as this one and it may be many months before the truth of the matter emerges. In the meantime, this media storm shines a light on the pervasive nature of sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment in any form is not acceptable and is illegal. Should this lawsuit result in a verdict for the women, it may help to set a precedent for other similar situations. If you are facing sexual harassment in your workplace, reach out and talk to an experienced sexual harassment attorney.

Harvard Is Clarifying Its Sexual Harassment Policies

Harvard University is one of numerous educational institutions to come under investigation for how its administration handles accusations of sexual harassment and assault.

Initially, their existing policy relating to relationships between students and teaching staff stated that professors couldn’t have romantic or sexual relationships with students in their classes. The policy was silent on whether they may have relationships with students they do not teach.

Harvard has had difficulties in this regard since the 1990s, when the courts found that educational institutions, such as universities, could be held financially liable for sexual harassment. After several eye-opening decisions, many teaching institutions, such as Yale University and the University of California, drafted stringent formal policies banning romantic and sexual liaisons between students and teaching staff.

This type of sexual harassment policy attempts to address the unequal power dynamics at play if a student and teacher get involved in a sexual relationship. Consent becomes a thorny and hard to distinguish issue.
Interestingly, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) does not recommend that colleges ban such relationships. However, they have admitted that such relationships are “fraught with the potential for exploitation.”

Harvard has changed its policy to reflect a clear prohibition of any sexual relationship between any professor and any student, including students under supervision, being evaluated or graded as well as graduate teaching assistants. The refinement of Harvard’s policy brings it more into line with Title IX (the federal sex discrimination in education law). This move may well be duplicated at other U.S. colleges and universities in the months to come.

One sticking point about getting clear consent or “Yes means yes” is that consent may include gestures and other nonverbal cues. Gestures and nonverbal clues can be anything but clear, particularly when someone has been drinking or doing drugs.

Does “yes mean yes” in high school?

“Yes means yes” (affirmative, conscious and voluntary consent to sexual activity) is intended to replace the saying “No means no,” but how far does this new maxim extend? Is it only relevant to college students? Is there any clear way to draw a line between consensual sex and rape? These are important questions. Nationally, several federal complaints have been filed alleging that numerous campuses virtually ignored such issues and in doing so, created a hostile campus environment for victims.

The topic of consent has been on many people’s minds since the vociferous debate over campus sexual harassment and how universities have been handling sexual assaults. There have been many complaints about schools failing to protect victims, often allowing their assailants to remain on campus in the aftermath of accusations and counter-accusations. Eventually, under national furor over campus non-consensual sex, a new motto was born: “Yes means yes.”

California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Senate President pro Tempore, Kevin de León proposed Bill 695 in the legislature. The bill suggests that it may be a fine idea for schools to teach children the new motto. Adding sexual violence and affirmative consent to the curriculum would expand and supposedly enhance the heath education component of graduation. Most students already learn about bullying, setting boundaries, rape and sexual harassment.

Now, there is a push to educate high school students about new expectations for considering having sexual relations.

But is it really appropriate to teach high school students that “yes means yes?” This is one of those dicey areas where some parents are likely to have serious issues with someone else teaching their children that “yes mean yes.”

Do schools have a role to play in teaching children how to harness their hormones, dictate their partner choices and explain that drunk or drugged sex without consent is not acceptable?

Where are the legal boundaries on this issue — or are there any? Legal scholars have already said they have no idea how the new “Yes means yes” rubric is going to translate in a court of law. We are poised on the cusp of forging new interpretations of the affirmative consent law and many are wondering where it may lead.

Sexual harassment common in sports venues, including MMA

Sexual harassment does not just occur in offices. It also happens in sports contexts, including Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Most ground arts have mixed-gender practices, few female coaches and limited facilities where female athletes are able to train, unless it is with male participants in the same sport.

Ronda Rousey, famous for her performance on the Beijing Olympic judo team in 2008, has called attention to a case of sexual harassment in MMA. Now an A-list sports star and the UFC’s bantamweight champion, Rousey’s opinion carries a lot of weight.

In a post in the, Rousey chastised the sport’s governing body for their apparent indifference towards accusations leveled at then official Fletcher Thornton. Several female athletes said he sexually molested them when they were in their teens after getting them drunk or high on drug. As a result of the news coverage, Fletcher resigned before the start of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Sexual harassment and abuse by instructors and/or other officials is not a new phenomenon. Consider the allegations against hot yoga guru Bikram Choudhury. Most of the cases sound alike because they have many elements in common: largely male-dominated training areas, environmental circumstances that made it difficult to speak up, and a male authority figure exerting influence on the victim.

No woman should have to endure such a physical violation of her person nor the associated social ramifications. No one has the authority to commit such heinous acts. Sexual harassment policies in sports training venues are virtually non-existent and often so are changing rooms for women. A lack of overt acknowledgement of gender in such sports allows such unconscionable behavior to occur under the radar.

When such a lack of awareness of gender issues happens across the board, in sports and other fields, sexual harassment is virtually guaranteed to happen. If you are facing such a situation, feel free to contact my office for assistance and to find out your legal rights.

Muddling the language of campus sex offenses avoids real preventative effort

Instead of “no means no” when it comes to campus sex, California legislators are now moving towards laws that suggest “yes means yes.” 

Sexual assault is a serious and complex crime that cannot be condensed to “yes means yes” or any other phrase. The prevalence of college campus sexual attacks reflects an attitude that disregards the humanity and rights of the women who live there.

The increase of sexual assaults on campus is not going to be fixed by the suggestion that “yes means yes” should solve the issue of permission/consent. The complete picture of a sexual assault crime involves more than just the issue of consent. More often than not, the scenario also involves alcohol and/or other substances that affect an individual’s judgment along with a wide array of circumstances and specific factors.

Lawmakers seem hesitant to approach the actions and circumstances that lead up to an assault. They prefer to play with bills like SB 967, which requires colleges to have an “affirmative consent standard” instead, only addressing the assault itself.

SB 967 may be a step in the right direction, but it is best to remember that a solution to sexual assault cannot be established by setting a standard to separate assault from consensual sex. It cannot be sandwiched into three words. And frankly, yes may not mean yes. The circumstances of each case dictate the outcome as being a crime or not.

Legislation does not stop crime.

UC Berkeley, Princeton, Harvard, Occidental, USC and a full list of 55 colleges across the nation are under scrutiny for mishandling sexual assault cases. “Yes means yes” doesn’t even begin to deal with the roots of the problem. What lawmaker will actually address them?