USC sexual harassment allegations: Grad student files lawsuit against school, professor

USC associate professor Erick Guerrero. Photo: USC

A USC graduate student said Thursday an associate professor overseeing her dissertation at the university’s School of Social Work propositioned her sexually while they were attending an academic conference in New Orleans, but the university declined to fire him.

Karissa Fenwick, 34, sued the university and the professor Wednesday, contending in her Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit that the professor sexually harassed her and that the university was more interested in covering up the actions of Erick Guerrero than protecting her.

Speaking to reporters Thursday at her attorney’s office in Woodland Hills, Fenwick said the university was “prioritizing keeping things quiet and protecting him (and not) protecting me and other students.”

“I don’t feel very strong,” she said. “It’s just that every time I think about (it), I think about this is happening to somebody else, and that’s what makes me feel like I have to say something.”

USC officials said Guerrero was disciplined, saying he was barred from leadership positions and his office was moved away from students. According to the university, Guerrero will not be teaching classes or supervising students for at least the current academic year, and any recurrence could lead to his dismissal.

The university “took the complaint of sexual harassment very seriously,” according to USC. “The university is reviewing the recent legal filing to determine if additional action is warranted.”

Fenwick said Guerrero lured her to his hotel room in New Orleans and made sexual advances toward her. She fended off the advances and ran out of the room, but she said Guerrero warned her not to tell anyone what had happened.

He “told me that if I ever told anybody about what happened that it would ruin both of our careers and he would take down anybody that I told, and that the dean would never take my side or let anything happen to him,” she said.

“I was terrified because he controlled not only my dissertation, but my ability to graduate and my reputation in the field I wanted to get a job in,” according to Fenwick.

–City News Service