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PCC newspaper advisor accused of sexual harassment and retaliation

Student claims bad grades are retaliation for rejecting advances.

June 29, 2013|By Joe Piasecki,

A 49-year-old journalism student at Pasadena City College is accusing the faculty advisor for the campus newspaper of unwelcome sexual advances that, when turned down, prompted bad grades in retaliation.

The sexual harassment and retaliation claim by Raymond Bernal — obtained Friday through a California Public Records Act request — was filed May 22 and seeks $100,000 in damages. It was rejected by the college's board of trustees on June 5, but the faculty advisor, 61-year-old Warren Swil, remains on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a misconduct investigation.

Swil, advisor to the Pasadena City College Courier since 2007, was put on leave in March, provoking outcry on campus and accusations among students and teachers that he was being targeted by administrators over the paper's critical coverage of college leaders.

Bernal alleges that Swil became unfairly critical of his submissions for the Courier after a January closed-door meeting during which the teacher showed Bernal, who is gay, nude pictures of himself taken during a boating trip.

Swil, who is also gay, twice "pointed to a picture of himself naked, smiled and asked Mr. Bernal what he thought about that picture," the claim reads. "When Mr. Bernal changed the subject a second time, Mr. Swil was visibly disappointed and acted as if he had not received the desired response to his provocative pictures. As Mr. Bernal left, Mr. Swil said, 'Let's keep this between you and me.'"

Bernal claims Swil had often praised his work during a lower-level journalism class the previous semester and had even asked to join him for a beer, but following the alleged come-on, he began to publicly criticize Bernal's submissions for the Courier, which is produced in conjunction with journalism classes.

The criticism eventually caused Bernal to stop attending class and seek treatment for depression, anxiety, headaches and stress, the claim alleges.

Faculty union attorney Michael Anderson, who represents Swil, said Bernal's claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — is without merit.

As for the encounter in Swil's office, "I understand there were photos shown from a trip, but I'm not aware of any pointing out or highlighting of naked photos," Anderson said.

Bernal alleges that while he was still writing for the Courier in February, Swil refused to publish a story Bernal had written about gay men frequenting campus restrooms for sexual rendezvous with strangers.

A draft of the article included in the claim contains numerous markups apparently made by Swil and notes critical that the story lacked factual support.

A revised draft apparently submitted after Swil was replaced by former Courier advisor Mikki Bolliger is also marked with corrections but appears to receive an A grade.

A third revised version of the story was posted to the Courier's website on April 9.

Emails between Swil and Bernal included with the claim show Swil both praising and criticizing Bernal's work before January, but later increasing his criticisms and assigning lower grades. Drafts of those articles are not included in the claim, however, leaving the merit of Bernal's work unclear.

Anderson said Bernal got grades "commensurate with the work he turned in."

Bernal's attorney, Kevin Rehwald, declined to comment on specifics of the case, but in a statement, said his client "regrets that his private complaint will be publicly released."

"However," Rehwald added, "we understand PCC's legal obligations [to do so]."

Bernal provided Courier reporters with a copy of the claim earlier this week.

Roger Marheine, head of the college's faculty union, maintains that Swil was unfairly removed from his teaching duties.

In a statement, he said that after reviewing the case, he believed Swil's civil rights had been violated.

"In my 10 years as a PCC faculty union leader…I have never known the college to place a tenured faculty [member] on administrative leave for the stated allegations," Marheine said.

He reiterated past accusations that Swil was targeted due to the Courier's reporting and suggested campus officials are dealing more severely with the assistant professor because he is openly gay.


Follow Joe Piasecki on Twitter: @JoePiasecki.

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