Daily Bruin Lawsuit Against UCLA Returns To Court
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Trial: Former employee to sue university again for obstructing previous case.
By. Kimberly Mackesy
Special to The Bruin

Allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation, which have been awaiting redress for more than four and a half years, finally are headed for trial in the wake of an appellate court ruling resurrecting a 1995 lawsuit against the university.

Former UCLA employee Elo Carrillo alleges in a lawsuit that she was sexually harassed by a former visiting professor in 1993 and that the university dissolved her position in retaliation for her pursuit of a claim.

A judge threw the suit out of court in late May, 1996 on the grounds that Carrillo had failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to her. The UC Regents, named as defendants in the suit in addition to the University and Chicano Studies Department faculty, argued that her failure to exhaust administrative remedies should invalidate her case. The trial judge agreed, dismissing Carrillo’s lawsuit before it could come to trial and sanctioning her to the tune of more than $12,000 for filing a premature claim.

The appellate court’s decision has reversed this judgment on the grounds that the university had failed to establish what Carrillo was required to do before filing her lawsuit.

The university has been ordered to answer Carrillo’s lawsuit, she no longer has to pay the $12,000 in sanctions and she will recover the costs involved in filing the appeal.

“I think this demonstrates how the university uses its procedures and its so-called administrative remedies to discourage sexual harassment victims from coming forward,” said Toni Jaramilla, Carrillo’s attorney. We hope that the ruling by the court of appeals sends a loud and clear message to the university that it can no longer hide behind its bureaucratic red tape”. University officials denied that the administrative process is used against those who seek redress for alleged injuries.

“That is catchy prose, but it is entirely inconsistent with the practice of the campus or the intent of the campus,’ responded Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs Joseph Mandel. “We treat all members of the campus community at the outset as equal members of the community, each entitled to a process that is fair to him or to her.

“We allow the campus processes to unfold so that we can make some preliminary determinations through fact-finding,” Mandel continued. “The sole purpose (is) seeing that justice is achieved without any preconceived bias in favor of the party alleging misconduct or the target of those allegations.”

When the investigation entered its third year, Garcia filed suit against the Regents, the students’ association (ASUCLA), the Communications Board and the Daily Bruin. He claimed that the university mishandled his investigation, that his privacy was violated and that he was defamed by the June 1994 Daily Bruin article.

The court dismissed Garcia’s lawsuit against ASUCLA, the Communications Board and The Bruin because the newspaper article about Garcia was a privileged report of a government investigation. The court ordered Garcia to pay the student media more than $13,000 in sanctions. Garcia’s lawsuit against the regents was separately dismissed on the grounds that he had not exhausted his administrative proceedings.

The UCLA counsel confirmed that the university dropped its in-house case against Garcia in 1997. He cited Garcia’s privacy rights in declining to further explain the decision. Garcia’s attorney John Younesi, however, told The Bruin that the Academic Senate dropped its formal charge against his client because of the unavailability of witnesses and the inordinate delay in processing the case.

Younesi maintains that the university made numerous blunders in its investigation – the effects of which Garcia, an administrator at Cal State Long Beach, still feels.

He hasn’t taught a course since the allegations came to light, said Younesi. “It’s acted to forever harm his professional and personal life.”

Although Carrillo’s lawsuit against the university has received the go-ahead, her civil suit against Garcia will never come to trial. It was dismissed by the same trial court judge who threw out her case against the university, on identical grounds.

Rather than appeal the decision as she did with the university suit Carrillo decided to settle her differences with Garcia out of court.

Jaramilla emphasized that Carrillo’s was an “economic decision” to settle and was by no means an indication that she had changed her mind about the alleged events.

Fearing that Garcia’s attorneys would succeed in demanding repayment of legal fees, as the university had, Carrillo agreed to relinquish her right to appeal in exchange for Younesi’s promise not to proceed.

“All she wanted from the professor in the first place was an apology.” Jaramilla said – an apology she never received.

After filing the initial administrative complaint, Carrillo claims she was bounced among officials in her pursuit of some resolution. In a letter submitted to the trial court, Carrillo states that she contacted 36 different UCLA officials and re-told her story 11 times. During that time, she notified the police on several occasions that she had received threatening phone calls at her office.

A police report shows that among other threats, she claimed one called “threatened to slash her throat” and another “said he was going to put his penis down her throat.” Her office was ransacked, police reports show.

In addition, Carrillo claims that she was threatened at gun-and-knife point, incidents her attorney said were also reported to campus police.

Frustrated by what she saw as inordinate delay in the university’s investigation, Carrillo obtained a right-to-sue letter from the Department of fair Employment and Housing in 1995. The letter came with a one-year statute of limitations. As of the day before her statute of limitations would run out, the university had not concluded its investigation – a fact that Carrillo’s attorney attributes to an intentional effort to consume Carrillo’s statute of limitations and, in so doing, stonewall her right to sue.

“I believe it was intentional,” Jaramilla said, “If the court of appeals had not ruled as it did…the victims wouldn’t have a remedy.

University officials, however, deny that this is the case. Lengthy inquiry can be part and parcel of a thorough investigation, university counsel said.

“It takes time to have a fair process, to investigate and to get all of the relevant information uncovered,” said Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs Joseph Mandel. “You’ve got to figure out to the best of your ability who’s telling the truth and who’s lying…If you get it wrong you’re going to do an injustice to both parties.”

Carrillo’s case “has been more complicated than most,” Mandel said, “and has therefore taken longer than most.”

Those complications intensified after Carrillo’s case was thrown out of court in 1996. She wrote to the Academic Senate Charges Committee asking to proceed with administrative remedies. A month later, the university told her it had dismissed her case. If the appellate court had not ruled as it did Carrillo would have had no recourse, her attorney said.

Currently, Carrillo is working for a production company and getting ready for the case to come to trial, Jaramilla said.

“She’s really looking forward to her day in court.”