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Can Filing a Complaint Against Someone Be Considered Harassment?

Millersville, PA |

A faculty member at the college I was attending engaged in inappropriate behavior with his students. I reported him to the department chair but nothing was done. I confronted him, but I was charged with violating the Student Code of Conduct under harassment. The charges were filed after information was forwarded to the Office of Student Affairs. A university official has implied that nothing has been done because I filed a complaint with the wrong department and suggested I file a complaint with the Office of Social Equity and Diversity. The incidents involved the professor bullying and humiliating students. He made fun of a student with a learning disability and used slurs to describe a student. He made inappropriate remarks about a student's sexual orientation to a staff member. He has also stated that he would like to physically harm a female student because he does not like her. I believe that other students do not approve of this behavior, but are afraid of him. I feel that filing a complaint would be appropriate, but I do not want to cause further trouble for myself. If I decide to file another complaint against him, will I face further charges? I am not allowed to contact him and have already been suspended due to the harassment charges. I just do not know if it is worth the risk.

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Attorney answers 2

Posted

No one can guarantee you anything, but harassment is repeated, unwanted contact without any legal basis directly with the aggrieved. Confronting him was a huge mistake, and that could be harassment because it is direct contact with him. Filing a complaint would legally not be deemed harassment, because while it affects him, it is not direct contact with him, but what concerns me is you already have some type of order against you and many times those orders include "indirect contact". You've already made your feelings about this person known. I'm not sure why you want to take it further. These other students are grown adults and if they feel in danger or bullied, they can take their own cause up, you're not their mom. This is college. If this guy is tenured, he ain't going anywhere.

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Posted

Something you need to be clear about right away is that "harassment" has two meanings here.

The first is the legal definition for the crime of harassment, which my colleague has laid out. In short: repeated, unwanted, unreasonable contact for no legitimate purpose.

That's not what we're talking about here! What we are talking about is your Student Code of Conduct, which can define "harassment" in almost any way. But an offense under the SCC is *not* the same thing as an offense under Pennsylvania's Criminal Code. The definition of offenses, available defenses, and procedures, are entirely different. Something which is not an offense under the SCC may be a crime. Something which is an offense under the SCC may be entirely legal. There's really no way of telling without reading the SCC in detail, and that's something you'll need to hire a lawyer to do.

As to navigating the university's complaint process, you may consider hiring a lawyer, but you may also find that the university itself has resources available to help students and faculty with that. Consider contacting the ombudsman.

This answer does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.