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Grad Students Say UCLA Did Nothing About Professor Sexually Harassing Them

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Two UCLA graduate students are suing the school, claiming that officials did not respond to their complaints that they were sexually harassed by a professor. Graduate students Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Hillaire Glasgow filed a federal lawsuit against UCLA last week, alleging that history professor Gabriel Piterberg not only made inappropriate comments to them, but also pressed his body against theirs or tried to force his tongue into their mouths, the L.A. Times reports.

The women say that when they complained to university officials, they were encouraged to remain silent about Piterbeg's alleged behavior and discouraged from pursuing any kind of formal investigation. The suit says that the women were afraid to be on campus, thus negatively impacting their studies. The suit also claims that there were other ignored allegations of harassment against Piterberg.

Takla encountered Piterberg when he was her dissertation advisor. She filed a complaint against him to Pamela Thomason, who was ULCA's Title IX coordinator at the time. Takla claims that Thomason told her that Piterberg admitted to some of the "basic facts" of her claims, but denied ever trying to coerce Takla. Takla also claims that Thomason discouraged her from asking for a formal hearing in front of the Academic Senate, as Piterberg would likely find support among his own peers.

Glasgow said that for her, the harassment began in 2008 and went on until 2013. She said she was initially afraid to come forward as Piterberg was a member of a committee that set aside department funding for graduate students. However, after finding out that Takla had also complained about Piterbeg, Glasgow said she told Thomason, too. She said she was "shocked, disheartened and disillusioned" when officials failed to look into her allegations.

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The suit also says that UCLA did conduct an investigation over the course of nine months, ending in March of 2014, but Takla said she was never told what the end results of that investigation were. Piterberg is still an employee of the school, according to a UCLA spokesman, though he did not teach any classes in the Spring 2015 semester.

Thomason now works at the Title IX officer for the California State University system, which includes 23 campuses. She has declined to comment on the case due to confidentiality laws.

UCLA provided a statement saying that the school "is committed to providing an environment free from harassment and discrimination and ensuring due process for all members of our community. The facts of this case are complex, and due to the privacy rights of all involved, we are prohibited from making further comment."