A graduate student sued the University of Southern California after she said administrators downplayed a sexual harassment incident with an associate professor and failed to protect her and other students from further abuse.
Karissa Fenwick, 34, said she was terrified to speak up, because the professor who tried to kiss and touch her was in charge of her dissertation and would help to decide if she graduated.
"I told anyway because I knew that if I didn't and something happened to someone else I couldn't live with myself," Fenwick told reporters Thursday at her lawyer's office in Woodland Hills.
The lawsuit filed in L.A. Superior Court accuses USC of failing to prevent and correct sexual harassment, violating education codes, and negligence, among other allegations.
Fenwick was in an unusually vulnerable position, her attorney explained, because she was both a student under the professor and an employee of the University.
"USC took the complaint of sexual harassment very seriously," the school said in a written statement. "It thoroughly investigated the claims, and based on the findings it disciplined the faculty member involved. In accordance with our policies, a financial penalty was imposed, he was barred from leadership positions, his office was relocated away from students, and he will not teach classes or supervise students for the current academic year and beyond."
Fenwick and her attorney said the associate professor, Erick Guerrero, should have been fired and other students should have been warned.
"The message is, that if you're a professor who brings the University money, you get to do what you want," said Fenwick's lawyer John Winer.
At one point during administrative proceedings, Winer said Guerrero tried to defend his behavior by claiming he was the, "hot Latino professor," who was constantly being pursued by young women on campus.
(Photo: Karissa Fenwick talks with reporters Thursday at her attorney's office in Woodland Hills, California. Photo by Eric Leonard.)