Blake Wentworth, an assistant professor in University of California-Berkeley’s South and Southeast Asian studies department, has filed a defamation lawsuit against three women—two graduate students and one former undergraduate—who accused him of repeated sexual harassment. In the lawsuit, Wentworth accuses the three women of “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” resulting from lawsuits they filed after Berkeley found that Wentworth had violated campus sexual harassment policies.
Wentworth is one of the many Berkeley faculty and staff that have been accused and subsequently investigated for sexual harassment in the last year. In March 2015, two graduate students, Kathleen Gutierrez and Erin Bennett, filed Title IX complaints against Wentworth. Berkeley subsequently found that he had violated the university’s harassment policy in Gutierrez’s case. In Bennett’s case, Berkeley found that Wentworth “exhibited poor personal boundaries,” but did not violate university policy. In May, a third student, former undergraduate Nicole Hemenway, filed a separate lawsuit, also alleging that Wentworth had sexually harassed her. Berkeley did not fire Wentworth; his case is not yet resolved and the tenure-track professor is currently on paid leave.
All three women went public with their stories and the Guardian ran long interviews with the alleged victims. During their interviews with the newspaper, the graduate students said that Wentworth’s behavior negatively impacted both their careers and their mental health. In her complaint, Gutierrez said that Wentworth:
[...] Repeatedly sexually harassed her – touching her inappropriately and frequently making offensive comments, including telling her “I’m so attracted to you” and bragging about doing drugs off of a stripper’s body.
In his lawsuit, Wentworth alleges that the women made “false statements” both in their complaints and to the Guardian. The suit adds that the statements were made “in an outrageous manner and beyond the bounds of decency tolerated in a civilized society.” The Daily Californian reports:
According to the lawsuit, the campus Title IX office characterized his conversations about Burning Man and drug use in the context of lectures on utopianism as “unprofessional conduct,” and referred to his dog-walking on campus as “manipulative behavior.”
The lawsuit also compares the university investigation to a “hunt” while emphasizing Wentworth’s academic credentials and popularity on student evaluations. The lawsuit argues that assistant professor is the latest victim of “misguided reforms which allow for the destruction of careers through false, distorted, and/or exaggerated claims.”
In the past year, Berkeley, in particular, has become the focal point of a number of high-profile sexual harassment claims. In 2015, it came to light that astronomer Geoff Marcy had sexually harassed numerous students and received only a light warning.
The Marcy case was followed by accusations that former School of Law Dean Sujit Choudhry had sexually harassed executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell. Choudhry admitted to harassing her and, in response, Berkeley docked his pay ten percent rather than “ruin the Dean’s career.” After very public scandals, Marcy resigned his position and Choudhry stepped down as dean, but remains on staff. Earlier this month, Choudhry filed a racial discrimination suit against the university stemming from Berkeley’s handling of his sexual harassment case.