Faculty, attorney: Probe of Palomar professor mishandled
By: NOELLE IBRAHIM
August 22, 2007
SAN MARCOS -- An investigation of sexual harassment allegations against a Palomar
College Spanish professor who was later exonerated was handled improperly, faculty
leaders and an attorney for the professor alleged this week.
According to his attorney, Martha Torgow, a number of district policies and procedures, as
well as state law, were violated during the investigation of John Erickson, a professor at the
college for 28 years.
David Larsen, an attorney for the community college, on Tuesday denied assertions that
the investigation was mishandled, but would not go into more detail...
Palomar President Bob Deegan and John Tortarolo, vice president of human resources,
also declined to comment on the specifics of the Erickson investigation.
Erickson, who was accused of not protecting a student assistant from an alleged sexual
assault during a college-sponsored Spanish immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico,
in summer 2006, was placed on paid leave in December, but was exonerated May 10,
Torgow said. He returned to the classroom when school resumed Monday...
"It has been a terrible ordeal," Erickson said in a statement to the North County Times. "I
would not wish it on my worst enemy. I am just glad to be back in the classroom, teaching
Torgow said the goal now is to restore her client's reputation and
state of mind, which she said were tarnished during the course of
what she called a "bizarre" and "out-of-control" investigation.
"What got destroyed was his reputation because of the way the
district handled it," said Torgow. "The district didn't follow their own
procedures. People are afraid to associate with him because they
don't know if they'll be in some way targeted by the administration."
During last week's governing board meeting, in which a number of
colleagues testified as to Erickson's character, faculty union President
Shannon Lienhart called the investigation a "witch hunt" and charged
that "tactics were used that ran contrary to all accepted norms of
"The misuse of power, the invasion of privacy and the limitless
police-type behavior should scare every single person on this
campus," Lienhart told trustees.
Torgow said the biggest issue with the investigation was the alleged
violation of Erickson's constitutional right to privacy.
"The investigation covered everything from A to Z, plus another
alphabet," said Torgow, adding that Erickson's colleagues and friends
were questioned on everything from his marriage and divorce to facts
about financial assets and his father's illness. "These are things that
had nothing to do with the allegations or anything workplace-related.
It was totally irrelevant."
Lienhart, who was one of at least 43 people questioned during the
investigation, said investigator Thomas R. Stewart reported to her
information about Erickson that had no bearing on his performance at
work and asked her leading, hypothetical questions.
"The investigator's synopsis of my conversation with him was completely taken
out of context and twisted to fit his own agenda," she said. "So the
investigator himself was participating in this mass
hysteria of defamation against this poor man."
...Erickson received a letter from the district May 10 that said the allegations
were unsubstantiated, said Torgow, but declined to comment on the letter's
The district's procedure for dealing with sexual harassment requires that a
faculty member be given a copy of the written complaint upfront and
allowed 10 days to provide the district with a written response, she
said. In addition, the district should only investigate complaints that are not
resolved at an informal level.
Up until he was put on administrative leave in December, Erickson didn't know
what had happened, Torgow said. He was not given a copy of the
complaint or chance to respond until March, she said.
"We don't know if he was even formally accused or not," she said.
Lienhart alleged that the faculty union's labor contract was also breached, as
the district is not supposed to deal with anonymous, derogatory
complaints against faculty members, according to an article in the contract
that deals with personnel files...
Another big concern raised by Torgow is the district's alleged violation of the
state's Ralph M. Brown Act, which protects the public's rights to participate in
government by requiring the groups to meet publicly, post agendas in
advance, keep minutes, and allow for public comments...
If the board does meet in closed session to hear specific complaints
against a faculty member, the employee must be given 24-hours
written notice, Torgow said. This allows the employee a right to a
public airing, so that if there is a false charge, the employee has a
chance to hear and refute it.
"It appears the board members are very much aware of the original allegations
against John Erickson," she said. "At no time was John given his Brown Act
notice that the board was going to hear these charges. He was horrified the
board was told these things that were false."
During last week's board meeting, board President Mark Evilsizer
acknowledged that perhaps some aspects of the investigation weren't handled
Lienhart said that the union is in the process of filing a grievance against the
college for not following its own policies and procedures.
"We will not stand for this kind of witch hunt against another faculty member
ever," she said.
-- Contact staff writer Noelle Ibrahim at (760) 761-4404 or
Mass hysteria of
defamation was also
carried out by
Morris and Kelly
Angell Minnehan at
District at Castle Park
Carolyn Doggett and
supported the frenzy
with union dues.
The complaints at
and were not
revealed to the
target until after she
In contrast to Palomar
College, CVESD never
placing Maura Larkins
Gil and Asst. Sup.
flat-out refused to
give Maura Larkins
the full evidentiary
hearing she asked
for and to which she
Palomar College goes out of control