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California State University mishandled several sexual harassment claims against employees, audit finds

A flawed policy at California State University, the largest higher education system in the country, contributed to the closure of nearly a dozen sexual harassment cases without thorough explanation, according to a state audit reviewing 40 cases over the span of seven years.

The audit, released Tuesday, examined allegations of harassment between 2016 and 2022 against employees at the university system’s chancellor’s office and three of 23 campuses: California State University, Fresno, San José State University and Sonoma State University. It found that the colleges failed to discipline people found responsible for misconduct, including one case where officials took no action in the five years after a faculty member was found guilty of sexual harassment, sexual violence and stalking.

“The problems and inconsistencies we found during this audit warrant systemwide changes at CSU,” California State Auditor Grant Parks said in a statement. “In particular, the Chancellor’s Office must take a more active approach to overseeing campuses’ efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment.”

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“Deciding whether to conduct a formal investigation is one of the most critical steps in a campus’ process for responding to an allegation,” the audit says. “Nonetheless, CSU’s sexual harassment policy lacks detailed guidelines about how to make and document these determinations.”

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There were more than 1,200 reports of sexual harassment by employees overall at California State University campuses between 2018 and 2022, the report shows. Of those, 254 were investigated.

Seven of 21 investigations the auditor’s office reviewed “contained deficiencies that caused us to question the campuses’ determinations that sexual harassment had not occurred.” For example, a faculty member who was found responsible of making inappropriate comments to a contract worker and hugging her, and kissing another worker without their consent was not found to have violated the sexual harassment policy, the audit says.

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