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Former students sue OSU

Former students sue OSU

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Two say university failed to take action on sexual harassment complaint

An August trial date for a lawsuit filed by two former Oregon State University students has been postponed.

Christi Sherman and S. Chantell Carpenter accused former OSU professor Ron Leavitt of sexual harassment in a lawsuit filed October 2005. According to the complaint, Sherman and Carpenter were teaching assistants for Leavitt, who was a professor in the Speech Communication Department at OSU. Each of them also worked for Leavitt at his business, the Corvallis Hearing and Speech Center.

Oregon State University and the former dean of OSU's College of Liberal Arts, Kay Schaffer, are also named in the lawsuit. Sherman and Carpenter allege Leavitt harassed other teaching assistants before them and OSU knew about it and should have taken action to stop him.

Leavitt and OSU have filed separate responses to the complaint. Leavitt denies any inappropriate actions. OSU says once university officials learned of Leavitt's behavior, they did respond appropriately.

Leavitt resigned his position as a professor at OSU in December 2004, shortly after Sherman and Carpenter complained about him to university officials.

According to the complaint, Leavitt made sexually harassing comments to Sherman four or five times a day in 2004, when she was his student and teaching assistant. Leavitt said things such as "that he wished she (Sherman) had not worn underwear when (she) wore skirts," the complaint says. Some of his other alleged comments are more sexually explicit. Sherman also accused Leavitt of touching her inappropriately, sometimes in front of other people.

Sherman often objected to Leavitt about his behavior, according to the complaint.

"Sherman told Leavitt she was greatly offended by him slapping her buttocks, and she demanded he keep his hands off her and stop his sexually offensive comments," the complaint says. "After that conversation, Leavitt was visibly mad and retaliated by taking away responsibilities for editing his book."

In the complaint, Carpenter says Leavitt made sexual advances to her and used the promise of future employment to manipulate her into taking business trips with him. He would then book only one hotel room, with one bed, for both of them. He also made many explicit sexual comments to her and suggested he would leave his marriage for her, according to the complaint.

Leavitt admits employing Sherman and Carpenter and admits making business trips with them. But he denies the rest of their allegations.

"The plaintiffs Sherman and Carpenter 'became friends' during the course of their employment" at Leavitt's business, his response reads, "and mutually decided, and did together, make a self-serving and misleading report to an administrative official at Oregon State University on October 20, 2004."

Although Carpenter says she received academic credit for her work at Leavitt's business, OSU's position as detailed in its response to the complaint is that no outside work for Leavitt was a requirement for graduation. An OSU attorney has filed a motion with the court requesting a summary judgment on Schaffer's part of the lawsuit, saying neither Sherman nor Carpenter ever discussed their complaints against Leavitt with her.

OSU does not deny Leavitt's behavior toward the two women. In their responses, OSU and Schaffer admit Leavitt made sexually explicit remarks and advances to the two women and touched them.

But OSU and Schaffer "deny that more than a few of these acts occurred on the OSU campus or at any OSU activity," their response reads.

They also deny any responsibility for Leavitt's behavior toward Sherman and Carpenter while they worked for him at his business.

Sherman's attorney, Charese Rohny, said Tuesday that there had been rumors of Leavitt's sexual harassment of students as an ongoing pattern. She declined to discuss what witnesses she planned to call to testify about this aspect of the case in the event of a trial.

In the most recent developments, Rohny filed a motion to reschedule the trial to accommodate Sherman's plans to begin medical school in Virginia on a contract with the Air Force. She can attend a trial but not on the August date previously set. The motion was granted by Judge David Connell in a hearing Monday.

Rohny, who has represented both women until now, also said she feels she has a conflict in continuing to represent both plaintiffs. Carpenter is looking for a new attorney to represent her.

A motion filed by Leavitt's attorney to sever the two cases was denied Monday by Connell. A hearing was scheduled for Oct. 8 to set a new trial date.

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