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Investigation finds former UC Riverside vice chancellor sexually harassed two women

Investigation finds former UC Riverside vice chancellor sexually harassed two women
Investigation found that James Sandoval, a former UC Riverside vice chancellor for student affairs, sexually harassed two women. (UC Riverside Highlander)

A former UC Riverside vice chancellor sexually harassed two women he supervised with unwanted touching, intimate texts and persistent invitations to private dinners and drinks, a University of California investigation has found.

James Sandoval singled out at least four women in low-level positions for preferential treatment, made romantic advances toward them and bullied them if they rejected him, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the UC Office of the President.

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Two of the women agreed to become complainants and two others recounted Sandoval’s behavior when interviewed as witnesses. None were identified in the heavily redacted report that the president’s office released this week.

Sandoval, who denied the allegations to investigators, could not be reached for comment. Before retiring in January, he was a vice chancellor for student affairs. During three decades at UC Riverside, he oversaw financial aid, student registration, enrollment, health and wellness, residential life and other services.

UC President Janet Napolitano sent a letter to Sandoval Tuesday barring him from future UC employment and disqualifying him from emeritus status. She said this was the “strongest action possible” since he had already retired.

In an email to the campus community this week, UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said Sandoval’s conduct to the complainants and others over two decades showed “blatant disregard for university policies.” He apologized to those affected.

“Had these individuals not spoken up, the scope and severity of his actions may never have come to light,” Wilcox wrote.

According to the investigative report, Napolitano and a dozen other UC administrators received an anonymous letter detailing the allegations in August 2017.

One woman told investigators that Sandoval in September 2015 began showering her with unwanted attention, including late-night texts unrelated to work, tearful confessions about personal traumas and invitations to go drinking in the guise of discussing her career. At the same time, he rapidly promoted her and gave her large raises and high-profile special assignments even though witnesses said she lacked the experience and qualifications.

When she began rejecting such advances several months later — she said they made her husband “livid” — Sandoval changed his behavior toward her “like ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ ’’ the report said. He took away her special assignments and drove her to tears, berating her over trivial matters.

By April 2017, she told investigators, she felt she had to submit to him to keep her job. She and Sandoval engaged in a five-week romantic relationship with hugs, kisses and declarations of love. The relationship ended the next month, after her husband confronted Sandoval.

Sandoval acknowledged their relationship but said it was consensual and that his favorable treatment was based on her “stellar” job performance. The investigators found that his conduct was unwanted and so severe and pervasive that it unreasonably denied, adversely limited or interfered with her job — a ground for sexual harassment under Title IX.

Sandoval’s conduct “created an intimidating and offensive working environment” that compelled the woman to submit to his advances and jeopardize her marriage or reject them and lose her job or suffer retaliation, according to the report prepared for the university by Public Interest Investigations, Inc.

Investigators made a similar finding in the second case, in which both Sandoval and the woman who came forward agree that there was no romantic or sexual relationship. He gave her hugs, held her hand, expressed affection in cards and messages, gave her small gifts and asked her to meet him after work for dinners and wine. She told investigators that she went along with some of the advances because she was afraid of his “pointedly venomous anger” and of risking her job.

She did reject him sometimes, turning down his invitation to share a bottle of wine and his request to stop by her hotel room around midnight on business trips in 2014 and 2015. She told him she was uncomfortable with his behavior more than a dozen times between 2013 and 2016, the report said, which led to verbal abuse that made her feel like a “punching bag.”

Sandoval’s behavior drove three of the four women to change jobs, the report said.

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