A professor at the prestigious university, who is the subject of three complaints, has filed defamation suits against the women he is accused of sexually harassing
A University of California, Berkeley professor who is the subject of three sexual harassment complaints has filed lawsuits against the women he is accused of victimizing, an unusual step that the students say will not deter them from speaking out.
Blake Wentworth, assistant professor of south and south-east Asian studies, has accused the women of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, with new lawsuits filed nearly a year after university investigators concluded that he had violated sexual harassment policies.
Wentworth was at the center of multiple Guardian stories on the ongoing sexual misconduct scandals that have plagued the prestigious public university and sparked national debates about harassment and discrimination on college campuses.
The women facing the defamation charges, filed last week, are two current graduate students and a former undergraduate who all worked and studied in his department. They went public with their harassment cases this year after lodging discrimination complaints with the state that accused him of inappropriate touching and unwanted sexual advances.
In legal filings and lengthy interviews, the students described the ways in which the inappropriate comments and actions of the tenure-track professor derailed their studies and careers and negatively affected their mental health. Critics argue that men in powerful positions at UC Berkeley have repeatedly avoided consequences for harassment and only lost their positions after negative media coverage.
Wentworths lawsuits claim that the women made false statements in their complaints and to the Guardian, and say they acted in an outrageous manner and beyond the bounds of decency tolerated in a civilized society.
We see this as him threatening us into silence, Kathleen Gutierrez, one of his grad student accusers, said in an interview on Wednesday. Were not backing down The lawsuit is part of a long line of harassment.
She added, Its absolutely shameful to see a professor and teacher pull this kind of ploy against students.
Gutierrez, 28, accused Wentworth of grabbing her hand and saying, I could lose my job over this but Im just so attracted to you. He also allegedly came up behind her and wrapped his hands around her head and ear and made offensive comments about visiting a strip club.
The university determined in October 2015 that he had made unwelcome sexual advances toward her and violated policies. But the review of the case has dragged on for nearly a year, and final determinations of his discipline are still pending, according to a university spokesperson.
He is not currently teaching classes and remains on paid leave.
Erin Bennett, 26, alleged that Wentworth made inappropriate comments about sex during their one-on-one independent study course in her first semester of graduate school. The professor is also accused of touching her hands and shoulders, referencing things he would do if Ms Bennett were his wife, and calling her his poor little lamb.
In Bennetts case, university investigators concluded that his conduct was unprofessional and that he exhibited poor personal boundaries, but did not constitute sexual harassment. The decision devastated her and resulted in her taking a leave of absence.
Bennett returned to campus this semester and has been working to resume her graduate education.
I feel like I finally got back on my feet and am able to be successful, she said in an interview. To receive this lawsuit its really discouraging. Its this classic blame the victim situation. Its a further abuse of power.