A dean at Del Mar College, in Texas, has filed a lawsuit against the college stemming from a sexual harassment complaint that a student made against the institution's president.
Theresa Cox, dean of equal opportunity/affirmative action, equity, access and compliance at Del Mar, says that, according to court documents, a female student came to her in September of 2004 and said that Carlos Garcia, president of Del Mar, made inappropriate remarks and advances.
Cox claims that Garcia "caused the complaining student to be expelled," according to court records, and then told Cox to stop investigating the complaint because the complainant was no longer a student.
Augustine Rivera, a lawyer for the college, said that the college could not comment on ongoing litigation, but that Del Mar "is aware of the lawsuit and Is proceeding accordingly and will take it up in due course."
Del Mar officials said that the college has been improving grievance procedures and sensitivity training in recent years in response to complaints.
Cox says that she did in fact stop pursuing the complaint, but did speak with someone who contacted her from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. OCR was investigating a complaint by the same student who spoke with Cox, as well as one from a faculty member who claimed that he was evenutally dismissed for facilitating the student's complaint.
Cox claims that Garcia, who came to the college in June 2004, reduced her authority after she spoke with OCR, and Cox's contract was not renewed for 2006-07. Cox has worked at the college for eight years.
Daniel Ross, Cox's lawyer, said he could not comment on details of the case, but said that "as an employment lawyer who does this stuff, every once in a while you get a case that you think is significant for a number of reasons. This would be one."
Cox is seeking compensation, as well as renewal of her contract.
Education Department records indicate that Del Mar has been no stranger to complaints to the Office for Civil Rights during Garcia's tenure. All nine of the complaints, which generally involved discrimination or retaliation, were closed for various reasons. Most of the complaints were eventually dismissed
after OCR did not find sufficient evidence to take action. OCR gave up two of the complaints, however, because the complaining parties filed lawsuits, which ends an OCR investigation.
Del Mar officials said that the complaints sparked efforts to provide better training for employees in areas including diversity and sexual harassment.
Lisa Maatz, interim director of the American Association of University Women's Legal Advocacy Fund, said that colleges need to publicize the availability and willingness of administrators to hear students' complaints about harassment allegations. Cox was such an officer. Ross said that "the irony is too hard to overlook."
Maatz noted that it can be difficult to prove retaliation, and said that OCR should sometimes exercise its ability to go to an institution that has had repeated complaints and review their policies and procedures. "Civil rights enforcement is done best when it's proactive," Maatz said. "That is a tool in their toolbox that we'd like to see them use more often.