A former Whittier College professor can move forward with most of her claims that she was wrongfully terminated 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 has ruled.
On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa A. Beaudet found that there are triable issues in plaintiff Teresa Delfin’s lawsuit for wrongful termination, retaliation and failure to prevent retaliation and harassment. The judge dismissed Delfin’s causes of action for defamation and sexual harassment, hostile work environment.
In their court papers, lawyers for Whittier College argued that Delfin’s loss of her job had nothing to do with the eventual resignation of the harassing professor, David Iyam.
“The truth is (Delfin) did not `blow’ any whistle,” the college’s attorneys argued in their court papers. “Whittier initiated an investigation against … before (Delfin) became involved. Then, under the leadership of then-Dean Darrin Good, Whittier forced Iyam to resign. All of which would have happened with or without (Delfin’s) role in the investigation.”
A committee of Delfin’s peers recommended that her expiring year-to-year contract as a lecturer, which Delfin admits was “at will,” not be renewed “for good reason,” according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
But in her ruling, the judge noted various points cited by Delfin’s attorneys, including the decision by a female student to come forward in February 2016 and tell Delfin that she had been sexually assaulted and harassed by Iyam and that she had submitted a Title IX complaint that same day.
“Based on the foregoing, the court finds that (Delfin) has presented sufficient evidence to raise a triable issue of material fact as to whether there is a causal link between (Delfin’s) protected activity and the non-renewal of her contract,” the judge wrote.
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.
The student who confided in Delfin in February 2016 told the plaintiff 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.