Editor’s Note: As leading San Francisco Bay Area sexual harassment attorneys, here is an update on a Berkeley sexual harassment lawsuit. If you think you may have experienced sexual harassment, please reach out for an attorney consultation. With offices in Oakland and San Anselmo, as well as consultations available over the phone / Skype, a confidential attorney consultation is your first step.
John R. Searle is one of the most prominent philosophy scholars in the world and a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley. But since this past March, a Google search of his name produces more articles about his sexual harassment of students and assistants than praising him for his research on the philosophies of mind and language.
On March 21, 2017, Joanna Ong—one of Searle’s former research and teaching assistants—filed a lawsuit accusing Searle of sexual harassment and sexual assault. She retained the California Civil Rights Law Group to co-counsel her cases against Searle and UC Berkeley. Ms. Ong alleges that about one week after Searle hired her, he locked his office door, then groped her and declared that they were “going to be lovers.” That was only the beginning: he watched pornography in Ms. Ong’s presence, made harassing comments like “American Imperialism? Oh, boy, that sounds great, honey! Let’s go to bed and do that right now!” and instructed Ms. Ong to read flirtatious emails between Searle and young women seeking to work for him as research assistants. When Ms. Ong rejected his advances, he fired her.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that others complained to the University before about Searle’s sexual misconduct, UC Berkeley apparently took no substantive action to address the problem. Jennifer Hudin, a long-time assistant to Searle, stated that Searle “has had sexual relationships with his students and others in the past in exchange for academic, monetary, or other benefits.” Searle has continued to teach even as students and others complained to the philosophy department that he made inappropriate comments during his undergraduate classes.
The accusations against Searle are the latest in a string of claims against UC Berkeley professors for sexual harassment. From January 2013 to April 2016, nineteen faculty and staff members at UC Berkeley and more than 100 faculty and staff across the entire UC system were disciplined for sexual misconduct. These numbers are indicative of the prevalence of sexual harassment at institutions of higher education worldwide. UC Berkeley in particular has been criticized over its unsuccessful (and lack of) sexual misconduct policies and prevention efforts. They now claim, once again, that sweeping reforms are in the wings.
In the meantime, we hope for justice for Joanna Ong and the unknown number of other young women Searle has victimized as the Berkeley administration remained willfully blinded by Searle’s “star power.”
If you think you experienced sexual harassment, reach out to one of our San Francisco Bay Area attorneys with expertise in sexual harassment issues. No two situations are alike; accordingly, this blog post should not be construed as legal advice. That said, with offices in Oakland and San Anselmo, our attorneys make it easy to have a confidential consultation on any potential sexual harassment that you may be facing.