Two graduate students filed a federal lawsuit against the University of California Board of Regents Thursday, alleging UCLA officials did not adequately address complaints that a professor sexually harassed them.
Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Glasgow, both graduate students in history, alleged history professor Gabriel Piterberg sexually harassed them, including making unwelcome sexual comments and advances, conversing about sexual matters and forcing his tongue into their mouths.
Lawyers for Takla and Glasgow said in a press release UCLA officials discouraged Takla and Glasgow from making a formal complaint when they tried to report Piterberg’s misconduct.
The students said they feared for their safety and avoided returning to UCLA unless absolutely necessary as result of UCLA’s inaction.
UCLA officials said in an email statement that the university is committed to providing an environment free from harassment or discrimination, but are prohibited from making further comment on the specifics of the case because of privacy concerns.
According to the lawsuit filed by the students, Takla’s professional relationship with Piterberg began when he became her dissertation adviser in 2010. She said she began to feel nervous around him during the summer of 2011, when he allegedly began to attempt to turn their conversations to sexual matters. In March 2013, she said in the complaint, Piterberg began to make unwanted sexual advances.
In June 2013, Takla reached out to then-Title IX coordinator Pamela Thomason, who, according to the complaint, discouraged her from filing a formal investigation and taking the case before the Academic Senate.
Thomason, who is now the California State University’s Title IX compliance officer, is also prohibited from speaking about the case because of privacy concerns, said CSU spokesperson Toni Molle in an email statement.
Glasgow said Piterberg began harassing her in 2008 when her undergraduate adviser Paul Padilla invited her to have coffee with him and Piterberg, according to the lawsuit. After the meeting, she said, Piterberg walked her to her car and allegedly sexually assaulted her.
According to the lawsuit, Glasgow said she avoided Piterberg for about a year, until she began working in UCLA’s history department in 2009. Piterberg would comment on her appearance in front of other faculty and continued to talk to her about sexual matters, she added.
Glasgow also reached out to Thomason, who didn’t file an investigation or remember her initial complaint, according to the lawsuit.
Glasgow said she tried to reach out to Janice Reiff, then-chair of the Academic Senate, who told her Thomason’s inaction was a clear violation of Title IX, but made no eventual punishment or investigation.
“I tried to do the right thing and go to the right people,” Glasgow said. “It was one of the bigger disappointments of my life.”
She said she hopes the lawsuit will lead UCLA to improve its policies on reporting and investigating sexual harassment.
In April, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights started investigating UCLA’s compliance with Title IX, a provision that prohibits gender-based discrimination in any federally funded institution.
Kathleen Salvaty, a former civil rights attorney, became UCLA’s Title IX officer in April.
Piterberg declined to comment for this article. He specializes in Middle Eastern studies and the history of the Ottoman Empire.
The UC Regents have 21 days to address the lawsuit.
Compiled by Roberto Luna Jr., Bruin senior staff.