By Jamie Ross
PHOENIX (CN) – A former professor sued the University of Arizona, claiming it improperly disclosed a confidential, defamatory investigation of sexual harassment allegations, which was published by a California congresswoman.
Timothy Slater, endowed chair of science education for the University of Wyoming, sued the Arizona Board of Regents in Maricopa County Court on Nov. 9. The board governs Arizona’s three public universities.
Slater started working for the University of Arizona in 2001, hired to create a degree program for high school science teachers. He gained tenure in 2004.
That year the University of Arizona’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office began investigating sexual harassment and retaliation claims against him. The results were compiled in a confidential report in 2005, which included interviews with at least 10 witnesses who claimed to have experienced “sexually charged conduct” in the school’s College of Astronomy.
The University of Arizona has a renowned astronomy department.
Slater says he has written two widely used astronomy textbooks, and published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles. “He is also widely recognized for helping more women earn Ph.D.'s in astronomy and astronomy education — a largely male dominated field — than any other professor in his age group,” he says in the complaint.
He says he was interviewed for the investigation, and was told it would remain confidential. He says the report is full of inaccurate statements, including that he gave a graduate student a vibrator or chocolate handcuffs.
“Dr. Slater’s then wife (now ex-wife) gave a vibrator to her longtime close friend and roommate who was a graduate student, who in turn gave back chocolate handcuffs,” according to the complaint. “Dr. Slater was not involved in that exchange, and such an exchange of gifts between female close friends was in no way any form of sexual harassment.”
He says the report also falsely states that he made a joke about installing cameras in his home to watch people having sex. No cameras were ever installed, Slater says.
The allegation in the report that he told one witness “that he has considered inviting her to swim over the weekend, but knew she would bring her bathing suit, so decided against it” is false, he says. As are the claims that he told her “she would teach better if she did not wear underwear,” tried to grab her underwear and said, “You’d look a whole lot better without these on,” and invited her to a strip club.
Slater also denies allegations in the report that he acknowledged to the same witness that he sexually harassed women, and that he threatened her employment.
Slater left the University of Arizona for the University of Wyoming in 2008.
Two years later, the University of Arizona received a public records request for documents on investigations of Slater.
Slater says the school disclosed a copy of the confidential report in response, then realized it sent the report in violation of Arizona public records laws and the Arizona Administrative Code.
In an email to Courthouse News, Slater’s attorney Kraig Marton said the university should be held liable for its wrongdoing.
“The university broke the law and its own rules by releasing a report that was inaccurate and which was supposed to be confidential,” Marton wrote.