Cal grad students take harassment concerns to state

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Two graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley are taking their allegations that an assistant professor sexually harassed them to the state agency that investigates discrimination claims, saying they are frustrated by the campus administration's failure to discipline the faculty member.

The PhD students, 28-old-year Kathleen Gutierrez and 25-year-old Erin Bennett, filed complaints on Monday with the California Department of Fair Employment Housing alleging that South and Southeast Asian Studies Assistant Professor Blake Wentworth repeatedly touched them and made inappropriate sexual comments. 

Both women reported their concerns a year ago to the office at UC Berkeley that investigates sexual misconduct cases.

An investigator concluded in October that Wentworth had violated university sexual harassment policy with his behavior toward Gutierrez, but not during his dealings with Bennett.

The alleged victims said the harassment started back in the Fall of 2014, and say since then the university is basically dragging its feet.

"I came in with an objective to study, to learn, to teach. I want that back," said Gutierrez victim.  

"It’s completely derailed my future career, my education," said Erin Bennett.  

"They're protecting the professors and they're protecting their dean. The same way the Catholic Church protected their priest," said attorney John Winer, who represents Tyann Sorrell, an executive assistant at the university.  

Sorrell has her own lawsuit against the university alleging a law school dean sexually harassed her. 

"The perpetrators need to be held accountable. The investigations need not to take so long. There shouldn't be so much red tape when someone comes forward," Sorrell said. 

Regarding this latest case, the university said:

"Although we cannot comment on the reported complaint or litigation at this time, the campus has taken several steps to protect the interests and well-being of our students." 

The department chair has reassigned Wentworth’s classes to other instructors.

Earlier actions regarding Wentworth included; ordering the faculty member to avoid proximity in the department’s building. The faculty member was told to avoid the graduate office and student lounge area and was also removed as adviser for one of the complainants. 

"This fight isn't over. This man can still be on campus. I'm not free until I know that this type of culture will change," says Gutierrez.