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Sexual harassment firings 'rare' at UA

By Michael Lafleur
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 7, 1999
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While sexual harassment complaints constitute the majority of grievances filed with the UA affirmative action office, most result from everyday activities.

Last fiscal year, 10 of 24 formal employee grievances filed with the affirmative action office regarded sexual harassment, said Sandy Fagan, assistant director of the UA Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office.

"We're not talking about the egregious stuff, we're talking about the environment stuff," Fagan said. "The kind of stuff, if it happened once, if it happened twice, probably would not be a big deal."

Six of 10 formal complaints registered with the office since June 1998 were about alleged sexual harassment, she said.

It is necessary to keep the number of complaints in perspective, however, Fagan said, noting there are more than 9,000 benefits-eligible employees.

"Most of the time people just don't think," she said. "Most of the time it (disciplinary action) is just waking people up."

The majority of the UA instances of harassment consist of anything from offensive desk art to jokes and innuendo, Fagan said. If the incidents are ongoing and affect job performance, they are considered a problem, she added.

UA employees who wish to file formal discrimination-related complaints are referred to Fagan's office, where sexual harassment and disability-related incidents are the two most commonly reported problems, she said.

Once an employee files a formal complaint, an investigation ensues, Fagan said. If the grievance is discovered to be well-founded, disciplinary action is taken.

"Discipline is important, and we can't ignore that." Fagan said. "But equally, the focus is on ensuring that the situation doesn't happen again."

Corrective measures include written warnings, suspensions without pay, a probationary period and mandatory training.

Fagan, who has been at the UA three years, said no employee has been fired for failure to comply with disciplinary action or malicious harassment in recent history.

"Firing is very, very rare," she said.

Formal grievances only account for a small percentage of the total number of incidents the affirmative action office hears about each year, Fagan said.

"Formal is the operative word," she said. "We have hundreds of informal complaints every year."

The reason for the gap between formal to informal complaints is a lack of accountability, said UA Oasis Center Director Irene Anderson.

While the UA has made a "strong" commitment to providing counseling services, more work needs to be done in punishing offenders once they are reported, Anderson said.

"We don't hear about people being held accountable very often," Anderson said. "I think the climate at the University of Arizona is similar to most other institutions of higher education in that most women experiencing harassment within the workplace may not be willing to risk their careers or their reputations to bring such issues to the administration and ultimately the public."

Peggy Glider, coordinator for evaluation and research at UA Campus Health Services, said a spring 1998 UA study found significant progress since a 1994 survey.

"The data indicates that there's definitely been improvement in the campus climate around this issue (sexual harassment) as experienced by both men and women," Glider said. "It doesn't mean that there's not more work to be done, but we've definitely made strides in the right direction."

In the 1998 survey given to 1,348 workers across all employee categories, 77 percent of female and 72 percent of male respondents said they would encourage a friend or family member to seek a job at the UA.

Ten percent of the women and 7 percent of the men said they had overheard or were told insulting remarks about women's behavior five or more times, Glider said.

While 59 percent of women said they were never treated differently by a co-worker because of their gender - or had seen such actions - 70 percent of men agreed.

The survey, designed to gauge overall job satisfaction, also included questions about sexual harassment among university employees.

"I don't think there was an item where a majority gave a negative response," Glider said.