LSU system fails to meet state sexual harassment reporting requirements

Southern University handed down the most discipline for workplace sexual harassment.

LSU
LSU Clock Tower (Photo by Julie O'Donoghue / Louisiana Illuminator)

Several of the campuses in the LSU’s state system failed to meet state sexual harassment reporting requirements concerning its employees this year, which are mandated under state law

The LSU system, like other state agencies, is required to submit a report annually outlining how many of its employees completed sexual harassment training; how many sexual harassment complaints about employees it received; how often sexual harassment occurred; whether any “discipline or corrective action” was taken as a result of these sexual harassment allegations; and the amount of time each complaint took to resolve. 

Officials are supposed to compile the reports by Feb. 1 and hand them over to the Louisiana Division of Administration by Feb. 15, according to state law. LSU submitted a report for its Agricultural and Mechanical College — the main campus — in Baton Rouge on Feb. 4, but no reports were filed for the university’s other locations. These include LSU of Alexandria, LSU of Eunice, LSU of Shreveport, LSU Health Sciences Center (medical school) in New Orleans, LSU Health Sciences Center (another medical school) in Shreveport, and Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. 

Every other public higher education institution in Louisiana submitted information on sexual harassment to the Division of Administration for each of its campuses.

The Division of Administration also did not receive an annual report on sexual harassment concerning the LSU Board of Supervisors, which oversees the state’s flagship university and has its own staff. 

Louisiana’s other public higher education boards — the Board of Regents, University of Louisiana system board, Southern University system board and Louisiana Community and Technical College system board — handed over such information, according to documents released by the Division of Administration. 

The misstep in reporting comes at a bad time for LSU, which is under scrutiny for how it handles sexual assault and violence against women on campus. The university is expected this week to release an independent review performed by Husch Blackwell law firm of how it handles sexual misconduct.

The review was ordered after USA TODAY published an investigative series last year tracking how LSU has mishandled allegations of rape and domestic violence, particularly those made against football players and fraternity brothers. 

The state government reports deal with a narrower subject matter than USA TODAY tackled. They focus exclusively on sexual harassment allegations made against employees. They do not track sexual misconduct allegations made against students.

Still, LSU has had some public struggles with employees and sexual harassment, too. The Advocate and USA TODAY reported last week that former LSU football coach Les Miles was investigated for sexually harassing student workers while employed by LSU. Miles said he did not mistreat anyone, but is still fighting the release of information about the investigation. Student complaints against university employees, similar to those made against Miles, are supposed to be tracked in the state reports, though the details wouldn’t be provided. 

The sexual harassment reports are a fairly new requirement. They were part of a larger update to state government sexual harassment laws that occurred in 2018, after a top aide to Gov. John Bel Edwards was forced out of his job because of workplace sexual harassment allegations.

Starting in 2019, each state agency — including higher education campuses — was required to develop its own sexual harassment policy. In 2020, each had to start submitting annual reports every February tracking sexual harassment amongst its ranks.

They need to be called out — those university campuses where they are not following the requirements,” said Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, who passed the bill that mandated the sexual harassment reporting requirements. “It’s the law.”

In its one report filed, LSU said it fielded five sexual harassment complaints against employees on its Baton Rouge campus in 2020. Investigations into four of those five complaints might have resulted in a finding of sexual misconduct. 

LSU reported that it only took “discipline or corrective action” in one of the five cases, but a second case is still under investigation, meaning discipline is still on the table in that instance. In two other cases, LSU said an employee “resigned before disciplinary action was taken” — suggesting that sexual misconduct might still have been an issue. 

The university took between 13 and 52 days to resolve the sexual harassment complaints, according to the report. No other details about the allegations were given. Specifics about cases — and the disciplinary actions taken as a result — are not required to be disclosed in these reports. 

Among the schools that fulfilled their sexual harassment reporting requirements, Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus had the most confirmed incidents of sexual harassment — with four cases resulting in “discipline or corrective action” in 2020.

McNeese State University came next — with three sexual harassment cases that required “corrective action” in 2020. Grambling State University had two cases that involved discipline last year — including one case where an employee was fired, according to its report. 

But Southern had the highest number of confirmed sexual harassment incidents in 2020 and the lowest participation rates in state-mandated sexual harrassment prevention training of any four-year public institution.

Only 65 percent of employees at Southern’s agricultural center, central system office and Baton Rouge campus completed the required anti-sexual harassment course required by state law. Sixty-one percent of employees at the Shreveport campus completed it; 76 percent of employees at Southern University New Orleans finished it and 83 percent of employees at the law center. 

All other four-year public universities who submitted reports had higher rates of their employees completing the training in 2020 — between 86 and 97 percent. 

The state sexual harassment prevention training is done online and takes about an hour every year. Those who must participate include full-time employees but also adjunct professors, graduate assistants and student workers. LSU’s Baton Rouge campus — the largest higher education site with nearly 5,000 employees — said 90 percent of its employees finished the training last year. 

Southern University’s participation in the state-mandated training has improved over time, even though it remains lower than those of the other universities. 

Its campuses saw an increase of 17 to 51 percent in training participation from 2019 to 2020, said Janene Tate, Southern’s spokeswoman. The university will continue to look at new strategies to further boost its participation, she said in a written statement.

Some of the state’s community and technical colleges — two-year institutions — also struggled significantly with getting staff to complete the sexual harassment prevention training required by all state employees. 

River Parishes Community College had just eight percent of its employees — 13 people — complete the training. Baton Rouge Community College had around 23 percent report training completion and Louisiana Community and Technical College System’s central office had just 60 percent of employees finish the course, according to the system’s report.

Jim Carlson, interim chancellor of River Parishes Community College, said he wasn’t aware of the issue around sexual harassment prevention training until he was contacted by a reporter about it on Monday.

“I want to [assure] you that moving forward a greater emphasis on communications and training will continue to be paramount for all employees of RPCC,” said Carlson, who took over in October. 

The central community and technical college system office and Baton Rouge Community College said their participation rates lag because of a technical issue.

They don’t have the appropriate software for tracking the completion of the online anti-sexual harassment course. Sometimes people complete it, but aren’t recorded as doing so, officials said. 

“Due to the lack of one dedicated system, the Human Resources Department experiences great difficulty in obtaining accurate training reports,” wrote Kizzy Payton, spokeswoman for the Baton Rouge Community College, in a written statement. “BRCC is currently in the process of resolving this issue.”

Sexual harassment on university campuses costs the state money through settlements and legal fees every year. Louisiana’s Office of Risk Management paid one student $20,000 in 2020 after the student alleged “sexually inappropriate demands” were made by a professor, according to state documents. It’s not clear where the case took place.