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State paid $591K to settle misconduct, harassment claims at UW-Madison

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UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank

The state paid at least $591,000 in settlements in the last decade in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault or harassment, by UW-Madison employees and its affiliated hospital, according to public records released Monday.

UW-Madison released records of 20 cases of alleged misconduct involving faculty, staff and students, as well as the university’s investigations of them.

The release came in response to requests for such records from the Wisconsin State Journal and other media outlets, and gives the fullest picture yet of how the university has responded to recent allegations of sexual misconduct.

The State Journal and other media sought the records after the State Journal chronicled the university’s handling of sexual harassment complaints in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. The newspaper has also detailed weaknesses in the university’s ability to track and monitor complaints.

At least 11 complaints of sexual misconduct against University of Wisconsin System employees since 2014 led to the loss of their jobs or were followed by their resignations.

The records released Monday show UW-Madison fired an academic staffer last year after an investigation of allegations by an undergraduate student of sexual assault and harassment.

A faculty member did not have his position renewed after an investigation of misconduct allegations, while others were warned or reprimanded. In at least five of the cases, an investigation found insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations.

Of the 20 cases, some were resolved at the departmental level while others resulted in formal complaints, investigations or lawsuits, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote in a Monday blog post accompanying the records release.

The $591,000 figure includes six settlements reached in the past decade. The largest — a $250,000 settlement made in 2008 to help settle a federal lawsuit by a former employee alleging she faced unwanted sexual advances — was reported by the State Journal last week.

The records also show a $200,000 settlement was paid in 2012 in connection with allegations by a former UW Hospital and Clinics employee that she faced discrimination and harassment from a supervisor and colleagues because of her gender, sexual orientation and disability.

UW-Madison and other institutions are facing newfound scrutiny of their handling of sexual misconduct allegations, as the national discourse recently has been rocked by dozens of women accusing powerful men of harassment, sexual misconduct and assault.

UW-Madison announced last year that it was taking new steps to combat misconduct that included expanded training and centralized record-keeping of allegations. Blank wrote in the blog post that those efforts are generating results.

“We’re seeing departments reaching out earlier and with greater frequency, which is a significant step forward,” Blank wrote.

According to the heavily redacted documents:

• An academic staffer was fired after a university investigation found he had “engaged in unwelcome physical conduct — in the form of unwelcome sexual activity — with (a female undergraduate student) on numerous occasions.” In one instance the staffer allegedly told the student to enter his office, closed the door and blocked it when she tried to leave, then began making sexual comments, touching her and holding her between his legs. The staffer then allegedly told the student to lie down on the floor under his desk and removed her pants, according to the records. The staffer was not named in documents provided by the university. UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said doing so would have jeopardized the confidentiality of the victim.

• A faculty member in the university’s Pharmacy School, Steven Oakes, was removed from a teaching position and did not have his appointment renewed following allegations of discrimination and harassment. A subsequent university investigation found “insufficient evidence to substantiate discrimination,” but gave notice to Oakes “that his conduct is inappropriate and unprofessional.” The investigative documents indicate Oakes denied the allegations. Oakes still is employed by the university as a clinical faculty member; his appointment expires in June, McGlone said. Oakes could not be reached for comment Monday via email.

• Another academic staffer, Jeff Vogtschaller, got a written warning from the university in 2016 in connection with an allegation of sexual harassment. An investigation found a “preponderance of evidence” supports the allegation that he engaged in harassment of the complainant from 2005 to 2011. The investigative documents say Vogtschaller acknowledged he may have done some of what was alleged, but he denied the most serious allegations, such as unwanted touching. Vogtschaller still is employed with the university. He could not be reached for comment Monday via email.

• A former emeritus faculty member of the university’s Sociology Department, John Delamater, died while an investigation was pending of harassment allegations against him. The investigation found Delamater’s conduct toward the complainant was “wholly inappropriate and unprofessional” but “does not rise to the level of a policy violation.” The investigation also found he “engaged in an impermissible long-term pattern of behavior toward graduate students” that allegedly included “‘weird sexual statements,’ purposeful ‘invasion of personal space’ and incessant ‘lower-back touching.’”

• An unnamed graduate student in the university’s Sociology Department got a letter of reprimand after allegedly pressuring students for out-of-class contact, including sex.

State Journal reporter Matthew DeFour contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to update the settlement payout figure based on new information from UW-Madison and to indicate that some cases involved UW Hospital and Clinic.


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