‘I would scream from the rooftops. There was no guidance in how to implement them’
If you read The Daily Californian‘s Thursday article about the firing of Cristina Pérez-Abelson, the Title IX director at the University of California-San Francisco, you’ll get the impression that she was slacking off on investigating allegations of sexual harassment and trying to cover her tracks.
Read the previous day’s coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle, however, and you get a picture of an official who couldn’t keep up with the university’s constantly shifting definitions of harassment, lack of coherent policies and refusal to staff up her office as complaints sextupled from her predecessor’s time.
UC-San Francisco confirmed it dumped Pérez-Abelson this spring – after 10 months of paid leave – following an investigation that found she instructed staff to hide files from an auditor and “falsify dates on complaints to make it appear that they were handled more efficiently,” as the Chronicle said.
Pérez-Abelson joined the university, which focuses on health sciences, as a lawyer in August 2013 and was soon tapped to lead the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. Complaints were about to skyrocket:
Nine UC Berkeley students and alumnae had just come forward, accusing campus officials of treating their sexual assault allegations too lightly, an action that precipitated an avalanche of sexual harassment complaints on university campuses across the country. Within months, dozens more students from UC alone had filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education accusing administrators of mishandling their investigations.
Here’s her side of the story, which is completely left out of The Daily Californian report:
Perez-Abelson said her predecessor at UCSF handled about 40 complaints a year. Her workload, she said, jumped to 250 a year.
“I don’t think anybody expected that to happen,” she said. “And I had no investigators for a very long time.”
Perez-Abelson investigated some of the cases. Others, she said, went to her associate director. Some went to outside investigators and some to human resources — which often bounced them right back because they were overworked, she said.
Meanwhile, UC changed its sexual harassment policy three times from February 2014 to January 2016.
“I would scream from the rooftops,” Perez-Abelson said, recalling her frustration. “There was no guidance in how to implement them.”
While the investigator upheld employee claims that their boss told them to change the start date of investigations and hide files “under desks to prevent an auditor from seeing them,” Pérez-Abelson disputed this.
The only files stashed away were “old and irrelevant,” and the university never stated when investigations should formally begin, she said.
After the Chronicle started asking questions, and eight months after Pérez-Abelson was canned, the University of California System finally acknowledged she was correct.
Two months before her dismissal and eight months after she was put on leave, the UC System “clarified that investigations must begin on the date a notice letter is sent to the complainant and the accused” – a line in the sand that had never been drawn when Pérez-Abelson was still directing the office:
Perez-Abelson said that having the dates altered on reports “was really correcting, not changing” them. “The allegation that I did it to shorten the time frame was just crazy. It’s nuts.” She said she had nothing to gain by suggesting that her department was more efficient than it was.
“I’m begging every week — I need additional staff! Look at my office! Stacks and stacks of cases!” she said.