A sexual harassment lawsuit again Professor of Environmental Studies Kai Lee will most likely be decided in court later this winter.
In August of 1997, former Williams employee Marcella H. Rauscher filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Lee. The suit, filed at the Berkshire Superior Court, also named the College as a defendant. Rauscher, a research assistant at the Center for Environmental Studies, of which Lee was director, alleges that Lee made inappropriate and offensive sexual comments while in her presence and created a hostile workplace environment.
According to Rauscher’s attorney Mitchell I. Greenwald, Williams had called for a summary judgment in the suit, but that motion failed last month, and the case will now go to trial.
Lee was director of the Center for Environmental Studies from 1991 through last spring. He is on leave from Williams this year and was recently named as a policy adviser to Governor Paul Cellucci’s transition team.
As reported in the November 18 edition of the Berkshire Eagle, Rauscher is seeking $240,000 in damages for financial losses. She is also seeking what Greenwald described as “intangible damages for what she went through.”
In a statement written by the college attorneys at Palmer & Dodge in Boston and released by the Office of Public Affairs, the College expressed its eagerness to defend Lee against what it termed “unfounded accusations” by Rauscher.
Director of Public Affairs James Kolesar confirmed that the case will be going to trial. When asked to comment on the circumstances surrounding the suit, Kolesar, said, “I can’t say much more than what was in the [OPA] statement… . Details will come out when it gets to trial.”
According to the OPA statement, while she was an employee of Williams, Rauscher had many opportunities to initiate college review processes against Lee, but chose not to take any of them.
Instead, according to the release, the College conducted a review of the workplace environment at CES and Rauscher’s situation at Lee’s request.
The release continues: “Responsibility for supervising her was then moved to the College’s then-dean of faculty Michael McPherson. The College worked with her for more than a year on attempts to correct serious problems with her job performance. Despite her written and oral commitments to abide by the guidance given her by Dean McPherson, these problems continued. It was at that point that Dean McPherson decided to end her employment. Professor Lee was not part of the process that resulted in that decision.”
The Berkshire Eagle reported that Rauscher felt Lee created a hostile workplace situation for her after she had written a positive review of a CES employee whom Lee had fired when he took the job as director of the center. In 1995, instead of initiating the optional college review process, Rauscher filed a discrimination claim against Lee with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).
In the Berkshire Eagle article, Greenwald noted that the original cause of the alleged harassment was Lee, but that over time other members of the college community became conscious of the situation and allowed it to continue.
According to the Eagle article, after Rauscher issued her discrimination claim, the College appointed a committee to investigate the claims against Lee. When it completed its review of Rauscher’s situation in 1996, the committee reported that “there is no basis for Williams to pursue claims of sexual harassment or gender discrimination against Kai Lee.”
The Berkshire Eagle article also reported that Rauscher’s accusations are not the first against Lee. Nan Jenks-Jay, a former associate director for the Center for Environmental Studies, also filed a gender discrimination claim against Lee with the MCAD. She resigned from her job after reaching a settlement for an undisclosed amount with the College. Two of Lee’s former students filed affidavits in the suit stating that Lee made inappropriate sexual comments during a conversation with them in 1992 as well.
Rauscher had worked at the Center for 22 years before her she was fired in June 1996.