A report released Thursday, Sept. 29, by the California State University Chancellor’s Office confirmed allegations that former Chancellor Joseph Castro failed to properly address sexual harassment complaints against a former Cal State Fresno administrator when Castro was president there.
Castro resigned as CSU Chancellor in February amid the scandal, first reported in USA Today, alleging he mishandled sexual harassment and hostile work environment complaints against Frank Lamas, the former vice president of student affairs at Cal State Fresno.
From 2014 through 2019, the university fielded eight employee complaints about Lamas. The allegations ranged from Lamas ogling a student employee’s breasts and asking personal questions about her boyfriend to asking another employee about his sexual orientation.
Lamas also was accused of bullying and retaliating against employees who spoke out against him, including removing the campus’ Title IX investigator from her position for following up on complaints about him in 2016, only to have Castro immediately reinstate her, then verbally counsel Lamas on refraining from such conduct, according to the 10-page investigation summary report.
Even after an investigation confirmed Lamas’ alleged inappropriate behavior and policy violations in June 2020, Castro continued to support Lamas, recommending him for a position on campus in the School of Education without disclosing the complaints and investigation reports about Lamas to the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs.
And from 2016 through 2019, Castro recommended Lamas for presidential positions in and outside the CSU system eight times, according to the report.
“(Castro) consistently did not take any significant action against but instead supported Lamas throughout his employment even in the face of multiple allegations, growing evidence, and, ultimately, confirmed findings of Lamas’s alleged misconduct,” according to the investigation summary.
In a statement Thursday, CSU interim Chancellor Jolene Koester said: “The report concluded that while the campus took action to explore and address each of the reports made, some responses substantially complied with applicable policy while others did not. The report identified among several issues, the President’s failure to more rigorously address reports of Lamas’s alleged misconduct as a notable factor that negatively impacted the effectiveness of the campus’s responses.”
The California State University’s Board of Trustees announced on March 1 that it had commissioned the outside investigation into Castro’s handling of the Lamas complaints. The probe began on March 25 and spanned five months, including roughly 30 interviews with current and former employees and a 14-hour interview with Castro himself, with his lawyer present.
Attorney Mary Lee Wegner, who was commissioned by CSU to conduct the investigation and wrote the report, said the evidence “reflects a blind spot” Castro had with Lamas.
That blind spot, according to Wegner, negatively influenced Castro’s response to Lamas’ behavior and a settlement agreement with Lamas in August 2020 that allowed him to quietly retire with a golden parachute of $260,000, retirement benefits and a glowing letter of recommendation from Castro.
However, Wegner concluded that the settlement agreement was above board, finding it did not violate CSU policies and that there were legitimate reasons for it.
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With respect to the $260,000, equivalent to a year’s salary for Lamas, that amount was reasonable given the threat and potential cost of litigation, the value of Lamas’ “retreat” rights — moving into a teaching spot — and the benefit of having him removed from the CSU campus and CSU permanently.
And while neutral reference letters are not unusual as a condition of employment-related settlements, the “positive nature” of the reference letter Castro wrote was inappropriate, Wegner said in her investigation summary.
Castro’s failure to more aggressively respond to reports of Lamas’ alleged misconduct allowed Lamas’s behavior to continue due to the lack of repercussions. The only action Castro ever took against Lamas was verbal counseling.
“Notably, the President did not document any of these actions, issue written warnings, mention these concerns in Lamas’ performance reviews or put him on a performance improvement plan — although the President had done so with at least one other employee,” according to the investigation summary. “Instead, he gave Lamas very positive performance reviews.”
Per his settlement agreement with the CSU system, Castro received a salary of $401,000 and has been allowed to participate in a yearlong transition program that allows him to become a professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he is tenured. He also was granted a six-month housing allowance valued at $47,002.