Seminar harassment

Posted: Dec 09, 2002 12:00 AM
There is no way for me to know who did what in the allegation of sexual misconduct against the dean of UC-Berkeley's school of law, John Dwyer -- although Dwyer's resignation does speak volumes. As to the charge made by the student's attorney -- UC-Berkeley's policies and procedures didn't do enough -- well, I know that stinks. The episode began in December 2000, when a law student was out celebrating with other students and Dwyer. According to the woman's attorney, Laura Stevens, Dwyer gave the student a ride to her apartment. While Dwyer used the woman's bathroom, the woman, who was "very intoxicated," passed out, only to wake up to find that her pantyhose had been removed, Dwyer's head was on her chest and his fingers were in her vagina. The conduct described constitutes behavior beyond sexual harassment -- it's sexual assault. After the incident, the student, who is now 27, anonymously contacted the campus official who handles discrimination complaints under Title IX federal law. According to lawyer Stevens, the official could not assure the student that her name would be kept confidential and that there would be no retaliation. The student then chose not to report the incident; instead she waited to file a formal complaint until Oct. 16, after she graduated. The school quickly instigated an investigation. Dwyer announced on Nov. 27 that he would step down as dean at year's end. You'd think the tenor of this story would be: The system works. The student made her own choices as to when and how she would report the incident. The school promptly investigated. Dwyer resigned. But attorney Stevens complained to The San Francisco Chronicle that the former student might sue if UC doesn't strengthen its sexual harassment policies. Strengthen? We don't know the specific proposals, but would more training have made a difference here? The school can't investigate a complaint without addressing who was assaulted, can it? As UC spokesperson Janet Gilmore noted, "If a formal complaint is filed against someone, certainly that person is entitled to know that he's been accused of something." Remember that little item in the Sixth Amendment about the accuser having a right to know charges against him and to be confronted with his accusers? Stevens complained to The San Francisco Chronicle that Berkeley does little to train staff on sexual harassment: "Their policies and procedures on sexual harassment are minimal. They don't distribute them. They have failed utterly." Hello. Dwyer is the dean of the law school. It's not as if a feminist pamphlet that repeats the oft-heard "no means no" mantra will enlighten him. If he did what he's accused of, and we don't know that he did, it's not because he didn't know the law or the Faculty Code of Conduct. And doesn't the fact that Dwyer resigned send a stronger message about unacceptable behavior than any line you can read in "Berkeley Campus Policy on Sexual Harassment and Complaint Resolution Procedures?" Frankly, I don't believe that the training and pamphlets make a difference. And, as an employee, I'm stuck attending company sexual harassment prevention seminars -- secure in the knowledge that they exist not so much to prevent sexual harassment as to indemnify the employer if someone claims harassment in the workplace. So when a lawyer complains that employers have to do more "training," as Stevens put it, I face being stuck in an airless room with a PowerPoint presentation for four more hours. The worst of it is that to blame a lack of procedures and training is to place less responsibility on individuals who violate other people.