Accounts by former Sonoma state administrators of sexual harassment raise questions over Sakaki’s response
After attending a workshop about a year into Sakaki’s presidency, McCallum said his behavior changed. “I was careful who I was hugging and shaking even if someone had just kissed Judy and then came over to kiss me,” he said in his email.
The two former music center administrators said Wenrick told them he planned to talk to Sakaki about McCallum. One said she also overheard him telling his co-workers about his conversation with Sakaki after it happened.
“I remember Kevin making a comment like ‘(Both women) were uncomfortable. I’m going to have to tell the president,” said a former associate director who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal. “In my head I go, I don’t know if it’s a good idea.”
“If it had continued, I would have gone to HR,” Wenrick said. “But again, after (a few) weeks, I was fired.”
On September 30, Wenrick was called to a meeting with his supervisor and SSU’s director of human resources. He was told that his position had been abolished on the recommendation of a consultant.
John Welty, former president of Fresno State University, had been hired by Sakaki as a consultant to review the finances of the Green Music Center.
The $145 million center was losing money and covering its expenses with money from the university’s general fund, including state appropriations and tuition, Welty said.
Welty recommended eliminating two positions, including Wenrick’s.
Wenrick said he was not allowed to retire in lieu of being fired, despite positive performance reviews, and was barred from applying for other open positions on campus, which was generally allowed.
“They did (that) with all the others they moved. If they no longer wanted them in the particular job they had, they would move them to another position,” Wenrick said. “I was told to hit the road, Jack, no exceptions.”
He was granted the right to sue the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on June 26, 2017, records show.
At the time, the possibility of retaliation for speaking out about McCallum did not cross his mind. The most likely explanation for his dismissal, he said, was anti-gay discrimination.
He began to take legal action based on this. In a December 12, 2017 letter from Wenrick’s attorney to CSU, Wenrick cited what he described as a derogatory comment Sakaki made to him about his relationship; a demotion his partner received at Sonoma State shortly after Sakaki’s comment; and his own shot.
Wenrick offered to settle for $900,000.
CSU attorneys rejected the settlement offer in January, saying Wenrick’s dismissal “was based on legitimate business reasons having absolutely nothing to do with (his) sexual orientation.”
Wenrick dropped the case soon after because her husband was being considered for a job at CSU, he said, and he didn’t want to threaten their only source of income.
“We just decided it wasn’t worth it,” Wenrick said. “It wasn’t worth pursuing this because there would be no consequences for Judy Sakaki and there could be serious consequences for (us).”
“A flaw in the system”
Around the same time, in January 2018, Sonoma State sent a letter of offer to Sawyer, the Vice President of the Channel Islands, offering him the position of Vice President of Student Affairs.
Sawyer, now 67, left CSU Channel Islands in December 2017. At his retirement party, then-president Erica Beck praised him for “a MacGyver-like skill set and incredible passion,” according to the Camarillo Acorn newspaper.
But two months prior, Beck had made it clear that differences between Sawyer and the campus were serious enough to warrant a quick separation. He was informed that he was not retained on October 27. His job was due to end three days later, according to documents obtained by The Press Democrat.
He received three months’ salary, in accordance with state law, the letter said.
On October 30, records show that Sawyer and the university signed a settlement allowing him to retire instead.
Beck, now president of CSU Northridge, said in an email that Sawyer’s departure from the Channel Islands “did not involve any Title IX issues.” A university spokesperson said the Title IX investigation that would take place later was not a factor in the decision.
When Sonoma State requested a reference from Sawyer during its hiring process, officials were told that Sawyer’s retirement was due to a “misalignment between Dr. Sawyer’s vision for the Business Division students and the future direction of CSUCI,” Channel Islands spokesperson Nancy Gill said.
Beck, however, confirmed that no reference was provided.