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A year after filing a sexual harassment complaint, Krista Huerta, a Delavan-Darien School District employee, has raised questions about the district’s handling of her allegations.

DELAVAN

On Oct. 4, 2017, the day before sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein launched the worldwide #MeToo movement, Krista Huerta filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Delavan-Darien School District.

Huerta, an occupational therapist at the district, alleged Ronald Sandoval, the district’s director of language acquisition and chief of the dual language program, had sexually harassed her multiple times for about two years.

Now, a year after filing the complaint, Huerta has raised questions about the district’s handling of the allegations and its procedures for filing harassment grievances. She says she wasn’t aware of the process or her rights when she chose to file the paperwork.

Sandoval, a Guatemalan whose second language is English, says the charges were fueled by discrimination. He says his behavior was misinterpreted and that he was treated more harshly by a school district investigator because of the #MeToo movement.

The debate comes amid a national increase in sexual harassment allegations in the year since #MeToo sparked awareness and conversation. Since October 2017, one in three executives report changing their actions to avoid behaviors that could be perceived as sexual harassment, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, and more than one-third of employees report feeling their workplaces foster sexual harassment.

Despite heightened awareness, sexual harassment still largely goes under-reported, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. In January, 76 percent of nonmanagement employees who had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace did not report it out of fear of retaliation or belief that nothing would change, according to the society.

“The process pretty much failed me on my end,” Huerta told The Gazette. “I can see why a lot of women don’t come forth.”

She said she wrote herself a note: “This is not your fault. You’re a good person.

“And I had to read it every single day,” she added.

Last week, district officials confirmed Sandoval will not be employed at the Delavan-Darien School District after the 2018-19 school year. His position will be eliminated, and his duties as the dual language chief will be split between current employees.

“We are now restructuring our administration. It wasn’t anything based on this issue,” interim Superintendent Jill Sorbie said. “The (dual language) program will still exist. It’s a fabulous program.”

The allegations

The Gazette obtained Huerta’s complaint through an open records request. In it, she details 11 encounters of sexual harassment by Sandoval, with the last incident Sept. 26, 2017. Huerta alleges Sandoval rubbed her arm at Turtle Creek Elementary School that afternoon, called her “beautiful” and said she had a “glow,” according to the complaint.

Other encounters in the complaint date to November 2015, shortly after Huerta started working at the district. They include Sandoval stopping Huerta in a hallway, complimenting her appearance and telling her she looked “marvelous” and “cute.”

Sandoval sometimes stood too close to her, Huerta wrote, and he whispered “hello” and looked her up and down on other occasions. That behavior, Huerta wrote, made her feel “dirty,” “disgusted” and “violated.”

In an interview with The Gazette, Sandoval labeled Huerta’s allegations as “false accusations” and questioned her mental stability. He said some of the encounters are cultural misunderstandings or language barriers because English is his second language.

He said the process after the complaint was filed was “pure discrimination” against him because he is a Hispanic man.

The school district’s attorney, Shana Lewis, led an investigation into Huerta’s complaint. She concluded Oct. 15, 2017, that Sandoval had sexually harassed Huerta and that at least three other women in the district had accused Sandoval of similar behavior, according to documents.

Sandoval eventually was suspended for two days without pay and underwent sexual harassment training. This January, all district employees participated in a harassment workshop in the wake of Huerta’s complaint.

But Huerta, who’s married to a Hispanic man, believes the punishment wasn’t fair. She said the process was traumatic, and after she submitted the grievance, she believes the district’s superintendent at the time, Bob Crist, sought ways to protect Sandoval.

‘It was horrible’

Huerta said she delayed filing a complaint out of fear of losing her job. But when she eventually submitted the grievance, the steps were vague and the process was trying, she said.

“I can see why women don’t say anything because it was one of the worst times of my life. … It was horrible,” Huerta said.

Huerta met with Sandoval in his office before filing the complaint. According to emails obtained by The Gazette, she planned to address one of the incidents with Sandoval “right away” and believed after the meeting the two had “a deeper understanding of one another.”

A few days later, Huerta reported Sandoval to the Delavan Police Department.

Huerta told an officer Sandoval had been making sexually harassing remarks for the past two years, according to an Oct. 2 police report. An officer visited Sandoval that night and issued a stalking warning but did not make an arrest or recommend charges.

Huerta eventually filed a formal grievance with the district and asked for Sandoval’s termination. During the school district investigation, Huerta detailed each of her allegations in an interview with Lewis, and reliving those moments opened wounds, she said.

“Going through each of the times ... mentally I was trying to shut them off just so that I could move on and just do my everyday routine and be here for my family,” she said.

Sandoval said Lewis was biased against him from the investigation’s onset. He said Lewis served as an “executor, jury and judge” and that she was vying to hand down a guilty sentence largely because of the #MeToo movement.

Crist gave Sandoval a one-week suspension without pay after Lewis’ investigation, according to an Oct. 17 letter. Crist wrote that any future occurrences will be “cause for termination.”

Neither Huerta nor Sandoval was satisfied. Huerta appealed the decision, and Sandoval filed a grievance claiming the investigation was “inequitable, unfair and discriminatory.”

Huerta wrote Oct. 23 that the punishment was unjust. Two other women had previously made verbal complaints against Sandoval, she wrote. Had those complaints been recorded, “I would not have been a victim of sexual harassment,” she wrote.

Sandoval wrote an Oct. 10 letter slamming witnesses for “corroboration,” asking why Huerta hadn’t reported earlier and asserting that she might have “some serious mental illness.” Sandoval filed a grievance Nov. 2.

The school board did not accept Huerta’s appeal, Crist wrote. On Nov. 13, 2017, Crist lowered Sandoval’s suspension to two days without pay after he conducted his own investigation.

Crist interviewed several women who passed off Sandoval’s behavior or did not find his actions to be questionable. In a letter, Crist points to the police investigation, Huerta’s email after meeting with Sandoval in his office and the lack of sexual harassment reporting as explanations for reducing Sandoval’s punishment.

‘This is happening everywhere’

Huerta believes Crist made multiple attempts to protect Sandoval and quiet the accusers throughout the filing and appeals process. Huerta said she was told to “get over it” and move on after Crist’s investigation, and she underwent six months of therapy in the aftermath, she said.

Now, Huerta asks why nothing was done for her, a victim of sexual harassment.

“It’s almost like the rules didn’t apply to him (Sandoval). But for everybody else it did,” she said.

Sorbie, who’s been interim superintendent since June, declined to comment on the investigation or Huerta’s allegations because she was not the superintendent during the incident. She would say only that hiring Lewis to investigate independently was the right decision.

In an interview with The Gazette, Crist stood by the process and called his handling of the situation fair.

“There was a lot of deliberation and anguishing over the whole thing to make sure it was as fair as possible,” Crist said. “I followed all of our board policies related to that kind of a circumstance.”

Delavan-Darien School Board President Jeff Scherer said the board was not involved in the decision-making process. He said Crist kept board members abreast after Sandoval’s consequences were handed down and that they did not vote on the matter.

The Gazette interviewed Huerta and Sandoval before the district confirmed Sandoval would not be returning next year.

In September, Sandoval was among those named in a federal lawsuit filed by a former student at the Kenosha Unified School District. Sandoval, who was an an assistant principal at Edward Bain School of Language and Art from 2007 to 2012, is one of five defendants in the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, a student claims he was harassed for several years beginning in the 2007-08 school year for being gay and that he was told not to consult with Sandoval directly “because Sandoval did not feel comfortable with plaintiff’s kind,” according to the lawsuit.

Sandoval declined to comment because the lawsuit is ongoing.

In the weeks after interviewing Sandoval, a Gazette reporter received seven emails from Delavan-Darien School District employees in support of Sandoval, attesting to what they said is his “moral integrity” and “professionalism.” They call him a “role model” and “respectful.”

Sandoval, who told The Gazette he will look for another job, said he considered filing a discrimination complaint after Lewis’ investigation but decided against it.

“This is a dark cloud over me that has been put for no reason. … And it’s going to follow me, and it’s going to damage my future, my family, my kids,” Sandoval said. “They (the accusers) want to see me in the hole.”

Despite her frustration with the process, Huerta does not regret submitting the grievance, she said.

“You want to go and do your job, and you want to feel a sense of safety,” Huerta said. “And then when your safety starts being impacted ... it’s not OK. It is the duty of your employer to make it a safe environment for you.”

The #MeToo movement launched the day after Huerta filed, and she said it brought a sense of relief knowing that women across the country had begun speaking out about injustice.

She hopes her complaint will prevent other women from becoming victims in the future, she said.

“This is happening everywhere. It’s not just in the little town of Delavan (and) Darien.

“It’s everywhere.”

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