UC Berkeley students sue university over sexual harassment

image copyrightAP
image captionErin Bennett, front right, and Kathleen Gutierrez, front left, say they were sexually harassed by a professor

Two students at the University of California, Berkeley, have filed a legal complaint against a professor, alleging he sexually harassed them.

Kathleen Gutierrez and Erin Bennett took their case to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, saying the university had failed to act.

They say Blake Wentworth, an assistant professor, repeatedly touched them and made inappropriate sexual comments.

Mr Wentworth denies the allegations.

Ms Gutierrez and Ms Bennett, both graduate students, went public with their case at a news conference on the UC Berkeley campus, near Mr Wentworth's office, on Monday.

They say the university failed to take appropriate action against Mr Wentworth, who is an assistant professor of south and south-east Asian studies.

Several student groups held rallies on the campus to protest over a series of sexual harassment cases against Berkeley staff.

Since October, an astronomer, a law school dean and an assistant basketball coach have resigned from the university over harassment allegations.

The White House has made fighting sexual assault a priority, launching a task force for combating sexual assault, and Vice President Joe Biden recently appeared with Lady Gaga to speak on the topic at the University of Nevada.

Mr Biden enacted the Violence Against Women act in 1994 and leads the "It's On Us" initiative, which urges college campuses to play a more active role in fighting sexual assault.

'Derailed' career

Ms Gutierrez, 28, first reported Mr Wentworth to campus authorities a year ago and her allegations were substantiated by campus investigators in October, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Ms Bennett, 25, said she had suffered anxiety brought on by Mr Wentworth's presence on campus and was forced to suspend her studies.

"It's been debilitating," she told AP. "It's already derailed my future career, my education."

Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for UC Berkeley, said the allegations against Mr Wentworth were being investigated by the university.

Mr Wentworth has been suspended from teaching and barred from the graduate student office and lounge in his department, Mr Mogulof added.

Arabelle Malinis, the students' lawyer, said at least five other students had complained to the university about Mr Wentworth.

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