Wednesday, April 16, 2008, 7:37 AM

NC State Held Liable For Professor's Sexual Harassment

Yesterday, in Gonzales v. N.C. State Univ., the Court of Appeals (COA) upheld an order of the Industrial Comm'n finding NC State (NCSU) liable for negligence arising from a professor's sexual harassment of a student.

Although there appeared to be a track record of complaints about him, plaintiff apparently relied heavily on the professor's alleged harassment of another woman at NCSU 10 years beforehand. NCSU argued that because that earlier alleged incident occurred so far in the past and didn't involve a formal complaint (meaning NCSU didn't investigate to determine if the allegations had merit), it was wrong to conclude that NCSU's failure to take action after that incident caused the plaintiff in yesterday's case harm. "We agree that the time lapse is troubling," the COA said, but "the Full Commission found that [the professor] continued to harass female students in the intervening time, listing seven women by name." The COA added, "NCSU is correct that [the professor] might have been exonerated had it conducted a proper investigation" of the earlier incident, but "having failed to take the proper steps to investigate, NCSU should have reasonably foreseen that 'consequences of a generally injurious nature . . . [were] probable under all the facts as they existed.'" The COA held that NCSU couldn't rely on the failure of women to file formal complaints as a basis not to investigate the alleged incidents and then argue that the earlier allegations were never confirmed and thus didn't warrant corrective action.

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