Capitol Alert

The final tally is in — UC's highest one-year payout for sex harassment settlements

Sexual harassment payouts at the University of California spiked in 2016-17 at more than $3.4 million, with students and university employees filing claims ranging from inappropriate hugging and kissing to sexual assault, according to new documents released by UC to The Bee.

The UC system, whose president has pressed for changes in the institutional culture, was hit especially hard last year by two settlements that exceeded $1 million each.

A Bee investigation published last month showed that UC was second only to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in the number of sexual harassment settlements and their costs in recent years. Both entities also are the largest in state government, with UC the No. 1 employer, followed by Corrections.

The Bee’s investigation, published Jan. 26, found that the state paid more than $25 million in the last three fiscal years to settle sexual harassment claims against state agencies and public universities. The tally, based on more than 40 Public Records Act requests to multiple agencies, did not include the Legislature.

Last month, UC was the only one of the 38 largest state entities unable to release its 2016-17 sexual harassment settlement data, saying it was “not finalized” yet.

The new documents show that the university’s total sexual harassment payouts exceeded $3.7 million over the last three years, with the bulk of those costs concentrated in 2016-17.

UC settled 17 cases during that three-year period, while the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation settled 36 cases for more than $15 million.

By comparison, the California State University system settled five cases between 2014 and 2017 for $440,500, The Bee found.

UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein confirmed that 2016-17 was the highest payout in a single fiscal year, although she noted that the university did not compile such data before 2013.

Klein said that, between 2014 and 2016, UC adopted many system-wide measures to address sexual violence and sexual assaults. Led by UC President Janet Napolitano, the changes included mandatory education and training for employees and students, and the hiring of additional Title IX staff on each campus, she said.

UC also created a system-wide model for investigating cases to “ensure consistency and effectiveness across UC’s 10 campuses,” she said.

“We believe the enhanced education, training and awareness among the UC community helped encourage people to come forward with concerns, and the number of complaints reflects their willingness to reach out… to promote a safer environment,” she said in an email response.

The issue has been a flashpoint on several campuses, where some students, faculty members and alumni have decried what they perceive as lax treatment of accused perpetrators.

The largest single UC settlement last year was the case of Tyann Sorrell, a former executive assistant in the UC Berkeley School of Law, who accused the then dean, Sujit Choudhry, of inappropriately hugging, touching and kissing her. She settled her case for $1.7 million, and Choudhry is now set to resign in May “in good standing” from the university.

Choudhry initially was allowed to remain in his post, even after UC found he had violated its sexual harassment and violence policies.

The second largest settlement went to a former UC Santa Cruz student, Luz Portillo, who accused one of her professors, Hector Perla, of rape after a night of heavy drinking with him on the eve of Portillo's June 2015 graduation. Portillo, who missed her graduation ceremony, settled her case with UC for $1.15 million.

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