Central Connecticut State University did not include records of sexual misconduct complaints against an adjunct professor and a graduate assistant from a 2019 Freedom of Information request, according to recently released court documents in an ongoing wrongful termination lawsuit against the university.
Former Director of Student Conduct Christopher Dukes, who handled investigations into student conduct cases, alleges he was terminated in 2018 in retaliation for acting as a whistleblower over what he says was mismanagement and mishandling of sexual misconduct cases by university officials.
The university newspaper filed the FOI request which asked for all the findings of sexual misconduct involving CCSU employees from the Office of Diversity and Equity dating back ten years.
According to a memorandum submitted by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, the two employees in question, whose names are redacted, did not fall under the scope of that request because their cases, which date back to 2011 and 2013, were handled through the Office of Student Conduct instead of Human Resources and therefore were not able to be released to the public.
One incident involved “a former CCSU graduate student and adjunct math professor who was found responsible by Student Conduct for making an unsolicited and unwelcome sexual advance on a student in 2011,” according to the memorandum.
The university claims he was disciplined as a graduate student through the Office of Student Conduct because his adjunct teaching position was on a semester-by-semester basis. Since the claim came at the end of the semester he was technically no longer employed as an adjunct. Rather, they investigated him as a graduate student and entered into an “administrative agreement” resulting in a five-year suspension from the university system and being banned from the grounds.
The second incident noted in the documents involves a graduate assistant (GA) who was accused of sexual assault by a student in 2013. Because the assault reportedly took place in 2011 when the GA was an undergraduate student, the incident was again handled by Student Conduct instead of Human Resources. That individual was given a one-semester suspension from their graduate studies.
That individual continued to be employed at CCSU, according to an affidavit by CCSU President Zulma Toro, as there had been no further incidents or accusations and no disciplinary history in his employment record.
According to Dukes’ deposition, one of the cases was a rape, something Dukes says was admitted to him during his investigation into the incident. No one else was present during this admission, but Dukes says he reported his findings to his superiors.
Dukes claims that those employees were “protected” by the university from the FOI disclosure because the cases were handled by the Office of Student Conduct rather than Human Resources.
Former University Counsel Carolyn Magnan, who was responsible for handling the 2019 FOI request, said in an affidavit the request was limited to sexual misconduct reports from the CCSU Office of Diversity and Equity and that she included all such reports in the FOI disclosure.
According to Dukes’ complaint, in 2018 he informed CCSU President Toro of “a history of Title IX violations committed by university officials and employees, mismanaged cases, and managerial coverups related to sexual harassment cases involving faculty and staff wrongdoing perpetrated against students.” Dukes informed Toro that he was going to the Office of the State Auditors with his information and wanted to inform her in advance.
The university claims Toro had university counsel Magnan look into the two specific cases and was informed they had been handled properly. Dukes claims that he was then suspended from his job, placed on administrative leave and terminated in late 2018 in retaliation.
However, the university asserts Dukes was terminated following a stand-off with police and his arrest during a domestic incident involving his wife. Dukes has maintained his innocence and in 2019 the state dropped charges against Dukes after his ex-wife said she didn’t want him to go to jail for the sake of their children, according to the Hartford Courant. Dukes has accused the prosecutor and the Hartford Police Department of misconduct in his case.
CCSU was ordered to reinstate Dukes following a grievance arbitration by his union, but that decision was overturned by a court after the State of Connecticut sought to vacate the arbitration decision. That decision is currently pending before the Connecticut Supreme Court, according to court filings.
CCSU administration came under fire in 2018 following disclosure of sexual harassment complaints by students against faculty and personnel records were initially withheld from the public, citing protections granted under faculty labor agreements. The files were then later released in 2019 by Toro.
Sexual harassment and assault allegations have been rocking the university in recent years as students have become more vocal, protesting the way the university has handled cases, resulting in lawsuits and, sometimes, large payouts to staff terminated in those incidents.
An investigation by Connecticut Inside Investigator found university officials shut out an assault victim and her family from disciplinary hearings after a student athlete beat her. The student was allowed to continue with his studies and athletics.
“The evidence clearly demonstrates that the two cases were appropriately handled and that the plaintiff’s concerns regarding their handling did not raise matters of broader concern to the community at large,” the attorney general’s memorandum states. “The plaintiff’s discussion with President Toro regarding the two cases did not constitute protected speech under the Connecticut Constitution as it did not address official dishonesty, deliberately unconstitutional action, other serious wrongdoing or threats to health and safety or a matter of public concern.”
Dukes’ case appears to be heading for trial with jury selection scheduled for November of this year, however the Attorney General’s Office has filed a motion for summary judgement.