January 28, 2021

UMM sex harassment charges outlined

MACHIAS — The Office for Civil Rights, after an eight-month investigation of the University of Maine at Machias, has accused Director of Athletics Sean Casey of creating a sexually hostile environment for female students and employees.

The federal investigators also concluded that the university violated federal law, Title IX, because it “knew or should have known of possible harassment and failed to take appropriate action.”

Several students, testifying to a team of investigators from the U.S. Department of Education office at Boston, alleged that Casey had sexually harassed them.

According to the 15-page OCR report, one female student told OCR investigators that the athletic director sexually harassed her while she was a student taking courses in the athletic department and as an employee. She stated that this harassment continued from the winter of 1989-90 through January 1991 when she left the university and then began again in the fall of 1992 when she returned to the university and continued until she left in late October.

She alleged that the athletic director used offensive sexual terms when speaking to and about women, including herself. For example, she said that Casey frequently used words such as “whore” or “slut,” the report stated.

“The athletic director made frequent comments about her breasts, behind, hair, speech, and walk,” it also states.

When Casey was interviewed by OCR officials, he said that no one had ever informed him of complaints of sexual harassment against him nor warned him not to continue to engage in harassment or sexual verbal remarks. He said he never sexually harassed anyone.

“He denied ever making an inappropriate sexual remark to any student or employee,” the report stated.

However, a male employee at UMM told investigators that a female student had complained to him that the athletic director had asked her if she masturbated. Also, according to the report, a female employee told OCR investigators that a student had confided to her that the athetic director “told dirty jokes and that his intentions were inappropriate for student/teacher relationships.”

Paul Nordstrom, president of UMM, said Monday that he welcomed the report and the opportunity it provided for the university to close some issues and to take corrective measures where needed.

The OCR investigation also looked at complaints about a professor sexually harassing a female student and allegations that the university retailiated against two professors for their participation in promoting student concerns about sexual harassment.

The OCR investigation concluded that the professor did not sexually harass students as alleged and that OCR did not find that the university had retaliated against two other professors.

Last weekend, Nordstrom issued to Casey a formal request for the UMM basketball coach to prepare a response to the allegations made against him in the review by OCR.

“As soon as Casey responds, Dean of Student Affairs Dr. Shirley Erickson, will give me her recommendation. Then some level of discipline action will be taken,” Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom also stated in a press release issued Monday that the OCR found that the athletic director’s actions prior to fall 1992 created a sexually hostile environment for UMM students and employees.

OCR determined that the university did not take appropriate action in regard to those complaints.

“I am concerned about the university’s past handling of such complaints and I have taken corrective measures,” Nordstrom said.

He also stated that “any possible personnel action regarding the athletic director must be kept confidential at this time.”

Casey, a 17-year member of the UMM faculty, reported to work Monday at UMM. During a telephone interview, in which he was asked for a response to the allegations made in the OCR report, he said, “The university has taken corrective measures and I’ve taken corrective measures. It is in the hands of my attorney.”

The university has 90 days in which to show the OCR what steps it has taken to bring UMM into compliance with the Equal Opportunity law’s complaint process.

Based on current UMM policy, a determination that an employee has sexually harassed students or other employees may result in termination. The OCR ordered the university to institute a plan to discipline the athletic director, “which may include disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

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