The state of Wisconsin paid out more than $500,000 in settlements of sexual harassment cases at UW-Madison in the past decade, including a $119,000 payment ordered by a federal judge in a case at the medical school where campus officials found no harassment or retaliation had occurred.
In addition, campus officials charged with assuring compliance with federal law prohibiting sex discrimination found last year that a professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology did not violate campus policy as a staffer alleged, although he engaged in conduct that was “inappropriate and unprofessional.” Yet the investigation prompted Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf to declare a “critical long-standing problem” in the department that required immediate attention.
Those cases are outlined in records for some 20 sexual harassment cases over the past decade released Monday by UW-Madison officials in response to open records requests by the Cap Times and other media outlets.
The heavily redacted and fragmented records kept private the names of complainants and all but a few of those accused of harassment. Some cases were resolved at the department level and others through formal complaints and investigations or lawsuits, as Chancellor Rebecca Blank reported in a blog post timed to the release of documents requested months ago as national attention focused on sexual harassment.
Campus officials say they have improved policies and practices around sexual harassment in the last couple of years, requiring all employees to get sexual harassment awareness and prevention training and developing a centralized reporting system to be able to evaluate the number and handling of such cases. At least one complainant disputes that attitudes toward harassing behavior has changed.
In the case dismissed by campus officials, a staff member at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health's fertility clinic described a work environment that was hostile, offensive and demeaning to women.
She reported incidents where her supervisors made sexually charged remarks and casually used profanity and claimed she was threatened with termination when she complained. The worker was fired before the end of a probationary period.
Investigators for the campus Office of Equity and Diversity found insufficient evidence to conclude the complainant had been discriminated against on the basis of sex, sexually harassed or retaliated against for complaining of harassment, according to their January 2010 report.
Three years later, in a judgment in a civil case brought by the complainant, federal district court Judge Barbara Crabb ordered the university to pay her $50,000, plus $69,000 in attorney’s fees and costs.
In the Sociology Department case the campus Office of Compliance — set up to investigate alleged violations of federal civil rights law — last fall found that John DeLamater, a well-known sexologist and emeritus professor, did not violate campus policy in his behavior toward a department staff member, who claimed that he had groped her and spoke suggestively to her.
Officials, however, did find his behavior to be inappropriate and unprofessional.
The staff member appealed the office of compliance finding on Sept. 25 and commented: “The UW’s increased effort around awareness of and purported desire to address harassment/assault is contrary to my experience. What is supposed to happen and what really happened with me are at odds. UW knew of Delamater’s behavior.”
DeLamater, 77, died on Dec. 13.
Four days later, Mangelsdorf wrote to the complainant that despite a finding of no policy violation in her case, investigators uncovered evidence during their investigation that DeLamater “engaged in an impermissible long-term pattern of behavior toward graduate students.”
The allegations by students included “weird sexual statements,” purposeful “invasion of personal space” and reports of incessant “lower-back touching.”
The office of compliance found that DeLamater “subjected a number of graduate students to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that created an uncomfortable and offensive learning environment.” That, officials said, was sexual harassment.
Witnesses reported that DeLamater acted that way both in the classroom and during social events where he drank alcohol.
“It is patently clear that critical long-standing problematic issues exist within the Department of Sociology, which requires immediate action,” Mangelsdorf wrote.
There had been previous issues in the department. From 2015-2017, a graduate student teaching assistant was accused of pressing students for out-of-class contact. The allegations ranged from off-putting invitations to the symphony, for which he was reprimanded, to a demand for sex that was not further investigation when the accuser refused to cooperate.
Sociology department chair Jim Raymo spoke of special sexual harassment awareness and prevention training in the department and a new committee to improve departmental climate, in a Cap Times interview in January.
The largest single settlement of $250,000 came in a federal lawsuit brought in 2008 by the sole female employee of the Walnut Street heating plant, who charged that superintendent John Loescher made unwanted sexual advances and retaliated when she resisted. Loescher still works for UW-Madison.
A female worker at the School of Medicine and Public Health in 2012 was paid $100,000 in damages and back pay by the university and an additional $100,000 in damages and attorney’s fees by UW Hospital, a separate entity. The payments settled her claims of discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation and disability and retaliation for her complaints.
Three Latinas working for UW-Madison Housing in 2016 received settlements totaling $15,950 in response to their claims of race discrimination in a climate where they said their supervisor stared at their breasts and gave them lewd looks. A year earlier, a Latina worker received $6,500 to settle allegations of sex, race and national origin discrimination.
Employee discipline related to harassment allegations included the 2017 firing of an academic staff member who sexually assaulted an undergraduate employee in the office.
Others accused were removed from teaching positions, reprimanded, and given written warnings, or entered into resolution agreements. A visiting instructor was not invited back. In several cases, the allegations could not be substantiated.