Pima College won't make good on promise to victims

2014-08-14T21:45:00Z 2014-08-15T11:20:45Z Pima College won't make good on promise to victimsBy Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Pima Community College has reached an undisclosed financial settlement with another one of the eight women who accused the school’s former leader of sexual harassment.

But some of them will get no such redress, despite a pledge by the college last year to “make whole the individuals who came forward with allegations” against former Chancellor Roy Flores.

In a situation one expert describes as “unprecedented,” PCC is acknowledging harassment occurred and that women were harmed by it, while also maintaining that some aren’t entitled to compensation because they kept quiet about it for too long.

College attorney Jeff Silvyn, who last year told PCC’s accreditor the school would help Flores’ victims, now says some will not receive aid because they missed the legal deadlines to file claims against the college.

Spending tax dollars to make amends to those who didn’t file timely claims would constitute an illegal “gift of public funds” under Arizona law, Silvyn said.

Liz Watson, a senior attorney with the National Women’s Law Center, a policy and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., said she’s never heard of a situation like PCC’s in 13 years as an employment lawyer.

“To my mind, that is unprecedented,” Watson said of the college’s explanation for why some of women will receive no redress despite the admission they were wronged.

Federal law requires workplace harassment claims to be filed within 300 days, but experts say most victims don’t complain, often because they fear being fired if they do.

At Pima, only two of the eight who had run-ins with Flores filed complaints within the statutory time limit. Some kept quiet for years until the college finally conducted an internal investigation in 2012, nine years after Flores arrived.

His accusers cited various types of impropriety, which Flores denied. One, for example said Flores would call her from his bathtub while naked. Another said he tried to force her onto a hotel room bed during an out-of-town conference.

Flores quit, citing ill health, shortly after the internal review found the women’s claims “largely credible.”

A later investigation by PCC’s accreditor, which led to the school being placed on probation, faulted the school’s “dysfunctional” Governing Board for failing to investigate anonymous complaints about Flores.

Some of Flores’ victims quit their jobs and found work elsewhere. At least four still work for the college.

In 2012, PCC paid a $30,000 settlement to one of the women. Officials so far have declined to say how much the second will receive.

As part of the latest deal, the victim insisted — and the college’s new leader agreed — that PCC would issue a public statement acknowledging what happened and praising victims for their courage in eventually coming forward.

Chancellor Lee Lambert also is making a video statement for the college’s website.

“We have to acknowledge the harms of the past and learn from them,” Lambert said in the statement crafted jointly with the woman who requested it.

“A critical chapter of the college’s past occurred when eight women employed by the college had the courage to come forward and report sexual harassment and retaliation by the former chancellor,” the statement said.

“These women were willing to face (Flores) directly with an independent investigator. Rather than do so, he resigned more than a year before the end date of his contract.”

The victim who pushed for the statement told the Arizona Daily Star she felt it was crucial for PCC to admit to what happened, especially since some officials initially downplayed the harassment claims.

Though most of the victims’ names aren’t public, some have been targets of gossip and labeled troublemakers by co-workers, said the woman, who asked not to be identified.

“We don’t want to be looked upon as troublemakers. We are courageous truth tellers,” she said.

Lambert estimates five of the eight women are at peace with the final outcomes of their cases. Some did not request financial compensation but asked for better harassment prevention, which the school has done, he said.

The Star was able to contact five of the eight for comment Thursday. One victim was satisfied, one declined comment and three said they felt they’d been kicked to the curb.

Jacquelyn Jackson of Tucson, the only one of the eight who has agreed to be publicly identified, said the college seemed more interested in creating the appearance of helping than in actually helping victims.

“After everything that went on, some of us are walking away with nothing, paying for our own therapy bills, working at other jobs that pay half of what we made,” said Jackson, a former PCC administrator.

Watson, the D.C. lawyer who advocates for workplace justice for women, said while some aspects of the PCC case seem unusual, sexual harassment itself is not.

“This happens at all levels across all job types. It’s less talked about today but it is still out there, hiding in plain sight,” she said. Surveys have shown about 25 percent of women and 10 percent of men have experienced harassment at work, she said.

“In 2014, when so many women have a crucial role as breadwinners, we shouldn’t still be faced with this.”

Contact the reporter at calaimo@tucson.com or 573-4138.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...
Get weekly ads via e-mail