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Sexual harassment accusation surfaces at UW-Eau Claire

Ex-official who had left UW-SP in wake of sexual harassment claim also faced local allegation

  • SexualHarassment

    MGN Online

A former UW-Eau Claire interim assistant dean of students who resigned last fall after university officials learned he had been accused of sexually harassing a woman while previously employed at UW-Stevens Point faced a similar accusation during his brief stint at UW-Eau Claire.

The revelation regarding Shawn Wilson came to light in UW-Eau Claire personnel documents requested by the Leader-Telegram through the Wisconsin Open Records Law.

An Oct. 25 memo from UW-Eau Claire affirmative action officer and Title IX coordinator Teresa O’Halloran to Chancellor James Schmidt indicated that she conducted an investigation into sexual harassment allegations from a student employee in the dean of students office against Wilson, who was hired in August.

According to the memo:

The student alleged on Oct. 11 that Wilson had made multiple comments about her appearance, hair and clothing, including that he really liked how she looked in dresses. The student also complained that Wilson touched her hair several times, gave her a side hug and touched her shoulder in an attempt to give her a massage, prompting her to push him away and tell him not to touch her.

In a follow-up meeting with O’Halloran and Dean of Students Joe Abhold, Wilson admitted to telling the student her clothing looked good on her and touching the student’s hair once in an attempt to remove something in it but denied the other allegations. Wilson told the officials some actions are taken out of context and made into what they are not, but he also said he should have known better and apologized.

Also in early October, UW-Eau Claire human resources director David Miller was informed by an official at UW-Stevens Point about an investigation of a sexual harassment allegation against Wilson while he was employed as assistant dean of students on that campus in 2015 and also about similar complaints by another employee who came forward after Wilson left the university. UW-Stevens Point placed Wilson on leave in September 2015 following the harassment complaint, and he resigned the following month.

The UW-Stevens Point investigation found that Wilson had sexually harassed a woman during move-in weekend on campus in August 2015. A university report about the investigation indicated the woman reported that Wilson asked if she would go home with him and persisted after she rebuffed him, using crude language to describe what he wanted to do.

After being notified of the UW-Stevens Point complaints, O’Halloran and Abhold again met with Wilson on Oct. 25 to discuss those concerns. Wilson denied the allegations.

Considering the similarity of the allegations, O’Halloran’s memo indicated she determined the allegations were more credible than the denials and recommended early termination of Wilson’s contract.

“It is my opinion that Shawn Wilson violated UW-Eau Claire’s policy on sexual harassment by engaging at UW-Eau Claire in unwelcome verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature that unreasonably interfered with an individual’s work or academic performance and creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or learning environment,” O’Halloran wrote.

Wilson resigned on Oct. 26 after being informed the university planned to fire him immediately, according to letters from Miller to Wilson, who earned a bachelor’s degree from UW-Eau Claire and a master’s degree from UW-Stout in Menomonie and also served as a hall director at UW-Stout from 2007 to 2013.

Mike Rindo, UW-Eau Claire’s assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, said university officials acted quickly upon learning of the new allegation and the UW-Stevens Point allegations against Wilson at about the same time.

“We did our own investigation, confirmed the UW-Stevens Point information and within a matter of weeks determined that we needed to terminate his employment here,” Rindo said. “The allegations were found to be credible, and they were in violation of our policy regarding sexual harassment.”

After leaving UW-Stevens Point, Wilson landed similar jobs at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and UW-Eau Claire after reference checks failed to reveal the history of harassment claims against him. One of his responsibilities in all three jobs was investigating sexual misconduct.

Rindo said UW-Eau Claire officials followed standard industry practice in checking Wilson’s background, including calling a reference at UW-Stevens Point, but were not informed about the sexual harassment investigation.

“There is an expectation that kind of thing will be revealed in a reference check, but in this case it was not,” Rindo said.

The revelations helped spur the UW System Board of Regents to approve a resolution earlier this month calling for the system to develop or modify human resources policies in regard to reference checks and maintaining records during the hiring process.

Proposed policies include requiring all UW System schools to share personnel files for current and former employees with other UW campuses and state agencies, and mandating that system institutions keep documentation of sexual harassment allegations, investigations and the final resolution of such cases.

“When those policies and procedures are being structured, the end result must ensure that employee misconduct at one UW System institution cannot be hidden as they seek to work somewhere else within UW System,” said Regent Vice President Drew Petersen, who introduced the resolution.

The board is expected to consider the policies at its August meeting.

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