Former dean at West Los Angeles College propositioned student for sex for years, lawsuit says
A student at West Los Angeles College is suing a former dean at the school who she said sexually harassed her for years when she worked in his office.
Sarah Murphy, 29, said Shalamon Duke, the former dean of Disabled Students Programs and Services at West L.A. College, repeatedly asked her for sexual favors in exchange for providing her with financial stability.
The lawsuit alleges Duke targeted Murphy because of her financial limits as a single mother of two children and her disability status.
Murphy was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and has issues with short-term memory, which allowed her to receive services from Disabled Students Programs and Services.
Duke resigned after the school’s Title IX office began investigating Murphy’s allegations last December and, according to court records, has since sued the college for failing to turn over records regarding his employment.
A representative for West Los Angeles College said the school does not comment on personnel issues or litigation.
Murphy said the harassment started soon after she was hired in 2015, when Duke asked that they meet at a cigar lounge in Culver City.
At the cigar lounge, Duke told Murphy her employment was not a “real job” and said he could offer her a “stable job with room for growth” if she kept quiet and complied with his sexual requests, the lawsuit says.
Duke then led Murphy to the bathroom, where he exposed himself and demanded she perform oral sex, according to the suit. She said she reported the incident to her supervisor and another college employee the next day.
Over the next couple of years, Duke continued to demand sexual favors and make advances toward Murphy, asking her to send him photographs of her masturbating and leaving Post-it notes on her desk requesting they meet, court documents show. Murphy said in the suit Duke repeatedly reassured her that he would “take care” of her and changed her hourly pay based on whether she complied with his advances.
Murphy said that at one point, Duke led her to believe her employment would end in December 2017, on the same date as her supervisor’s retirement. When she asked whether she could continue working in the office, Duke requested more sexual favors, the lawsuit says.
Murphy’s supervisor reported the sexual misconduct to a college administrator upon her retirement in December, prompting a Title IX investigation that required Murphy and Duke not to communicate with each other, according to the lawsuit.
But during the summer, a janitor approached Murphy to relay messages from Duke. According to the lawsuit, the janitor said Duke wanted her to sign papers to resolve the matter, adding that “he makes six figures” and knew that she “needs money.”
Duke sued the Los Angeles Community College District in July for failing to provide records about his performance or grievances, despite several requests by his attorneys. It’s unclear whether that request was related to Murphy’s allegations.
Duke’s attorneys said they would not comment on the pending litigation.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.