USC fundraising executive leaves post amid sexual harassment investigation

A USC administrator responsible for raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the university has left his post in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed female colleagues, the latest blow to a campus already dealing with the arrest of an assistant basketball coach and the departures of two medical school deans accused of misconduct.

David Carrera, a university vice president who helped lead USC’s historic $6-billion fundraising campaign, is the subject of an internal university investigation in which dozens of employees have been interviewed about his treatment of women, university officials confirmed Tuesday in response to inquiries from The Times.

The head of USC’s Office of Equity and Diversity, which is conducting the investigation, said in a statement that Carrera left his job last week.

“Discrimination and harassment have no place at USC. The university does not tolerate behavior that violates its strict policy and takes appropriate disciplinary action when it does,” OED executive director Gretchen Dahlinger Means said.

At USC, complaints by faculty, staff and students about harassment or discrimination are investigated by the OED.

Despite Carrera’s departure, “the investigation is still ongoing and will continue until we fully complete our findings,” Means added.

University officials declined to say whether Carrera was fired or had resigned. Carrera did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Carrera, 50, who held the title vice president of advancement and health sciences development, joined USC from Johns Hopkins University in 2014. In addition to helping lead the endowment campaign, Carrera presided over the fundraising activities for nine professional schools, including the Keck School of Medicine, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and Gould School of Law, as well as USC’s hospitals, according to his USC biography.

Sources familiar with the investigation said USC received at least five complaints about Carrera this year alone. But they said the university did not open an investigation into Carrera until after The Times published a July story revealing drug use by former Keck Dean Carmen Puliafito. After that story ran, the sources said, some employees lodged another complaint against Carrera, and the university launched an investigation in August.

In interviews with investigators, some employees alleged that Carrera questioned women who worked under him in USC’s fundraising operation about their dating habits and volunteered information about his sex life, the sources said. Those employees also said that Carrera made comments about the desirability of female co-workers and women he encountered at donor fundraising events, the sources said.

A university spokesman said Carrera’s boss, university Senior Vice President Albert Checchio, learned of complaints about Carrera in March. Checchio “rebuked” Carrera, but “at the time, he did not think it merited a referral to OED,” USC spokesman Charles Sipkins said. He declined to describe the complaints or explain what led Checchio to conclude he did not need to alert OED.

Checchio did not return messages seeking comment.

The website for USC’s OED instructs employees to refer complaints to investigators immediately.

“Should a complaint of harassment or discrimination be brought to your attention, contact our office immediately. In order to assure that all complaints are addressed quickly and appropriately, departments may not proceed in any way to investigate allegations of this sort on their own,” the site states.

Carrera continued working on campus until Sept. 9, when USC placed him on administrative leave. The move came a day after Times reporters started approaching current and former employees with questions about Carrera’s behavior toward women. Sipkins, the university spokesman, said, “As the investigation proceeded, it was clear that it was better that Carrera be placed on leave due to the nature of the investigation.”

His departure occurred the same week as the abrupt resignation of medical school Dean Rohit Varma. University leaders forced Varma from his post Thursday after learning that The Times was preparing to publish a story about a 2002 sexual harassment allegation against him that resulted in a $135,000 settlement with a female researcher. Varma’s predecessor, Puliafito, stepped down in March 2016 following years of complaints about his drinking and abusive treatment of colleagues.

Last month, federal prosecutors in New York charged assistant basketball coach Tony Bland with crimes including conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud as part of a wide-ranging investigation into corruption in college sports recruiting.

In a letter to the medical school community Tuesday night, Provost Michael Quick acknowledged concerns and disappointment among faculty, students and staff and announced several new measures “to strengthen and improve our culture.”

USC plans to create a new vice provost position specifically to “provide leadership training to address our expectations of deans and senior leaders, and to evaluate their performance,” Quick wrote. The university also will establish an ombuds office to field complaints and help manage “difficult situations that arise in the workplace.”

“We recognize that the values and conduct of our leaders should be beyond reproach, and we are committed to living out these values,” Quick wrote.

Times staff writers Adam Elmahrek and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

@latimesharriet

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UPDATES:

10:40 a.m.: This article was updated with information from the provost’s office about the creation of an ombuds office.

This article was originally published at 10:30 a.m.

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