A former Whittier College professor can move forward with most of her claims that she was wrongfully fired before the 2017-18 school year for speaking out in favor of students who alleged they were sexually harassed by a longtime professor who headed her department, a judge ruled Friday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa A. Beaudet ruled that Teresa Delfin will only have to shore up her sexual harassment-hostile work environment claim for it to remain part of her lawsuit, which also includes allegations of wrongful termination, retaliation failure to prevent retaliation and/or harassment and defamation.
Delfin was given 20 days to file an amended complaint.
In their court papers, lawyers for Whittier College said Delfin lost her job long after the resignation of the harassing professor, David Iyam.
“Plaintiff’s allegations demonstrate that she witnessed none of Iyam’s illegal harassment that led to his forced resignation and none of it took place in plaintiff’s work environment, except one instance at a luncheon in May 2013,” the defense’s court papers state.
Delfin only learned of Iyam’s behavior from after-the-fact from reports by students who were either subjected to his conduct or had heard of it, the defense lawyers maintain.
“Plaintiff admits that no sexually harassing conduct occurred after Iyam left campus in May 2016, but she claims she was terminated from her employment with Whittier nearly a year later when her contract to teach was not renewed,” the college’s lawyers stated in their court papers.
Delfin is former lecturer in the college’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She alleges the school fired her because she spoke out on behalf of students who were allegedly victimized by Iyam, then the most senior faculty member in Delfin’s department and a person described in the plaintiff’s court papers as a “a widely-known sexual predator.”
Delfin alleges she learned of Iyam’s sexual harassment behavior in May 2013 when she attended a luncheon with him, other faculty and students and she heard him make an inappropriate comment about a student.
Delfin immediately asked Iyam to stop making such remarks, but he persisted and the other faculty members ignored him, according to her court papers. She says she complained about the incident to the head of her department, who at the time sat on Whittier College’s Title IX Committee.
Delfin says she also reported that she heard other students report sexual harassing comments by Iyam, including one who said the professor rearranged the classroom seating so female students wearing short skirts could sit closer to him.
“Despite plaintiff’s complaint, no one took any corrective action to address Iyam’s misconduct,” the suit alleges.
A Title IX investigation ensued and Whittier College placed Iyam on administrative leave for the 2013 fall semester, according to the complaint, which says Delfin began to advocate for complete transparency regarding the reason for Iyam’s leave and sought to help prevent further harassment.
Despite the college’s knowledge of Iyam’s alleged predatory conduct, the staff promoted him to full professor, the suit states.
In February 2016, a student told Delfin that Iyam had allegedly sexually harassed, assaulted and battered her throughout the 2015 fall semester and into the 2016 spring semester, prompting another Title IX complaint and investigation, according to the suit. Delfin contacted the Title IX Investigator and asked that Iyam be removed from campus, the suit states.
The next day, the college dean placed Iyam on administrative leave and Iyam resigned in May 2016, the suit states. In the first of what Delfin alleges was a series of retaliatory actions, the college dean decided in March 2017 to fire the plaintiff as of the 2017-18 school year, the suit states.
Then, in alleged violation of Whittier College policies, the dean prevented Delfin from appealing the firing by creating an appeal policy that was based on criteria inapplicable to the plaintiff’s case, the suit states. She alleges the school also did a “sham” investigation of her complaint filed with human resources, and that the college dean defamed herin various ways, including by saying she had “low-quality teaching.”