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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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