Two former University of South Carolina instructors have filed separate lawsuits claiming they were sexually harassed by a professor and school officials did nothing to stop his behavior.
Former visual arts instructors Jaime Misenheimer and Pamela Bowers filed the lawsuits against the University of South Carolina and tenured professor David Voros last week.
Voros was previously accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit filed by a former graduate student in 2018.
The lawsuit accuses the university of systemically protecting Voros after numerous complaints of his persistant, intimidating and harassing behavior.
Further, the two women say they were mistreated by the university to the point where they could no longer do their jobs after they complained about Voros.
“The University’s failure to address the sexual harassment and other discriminatory and retaliatory treatment reported by female instructors and students within South Carolina’s School of Visual Art and Design is inexcusable,” Elizabeth Bowen, one of two attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said.
In the lawsuits, both women describe several incidents of unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate, intimidating behavior from Voros.
In addition to their complaints, both women said that multiple students reported to the university about Voros’ inappropriate behavior — and the university continuously chose to look away, according to the lawsuit.
“The University and David Voros must be held accountable for their behavior, and that’s what we intend to do,” Bowen said.
Bowers is Voros’ ex-wife, who has worked at the University of South Carolina School of Visual Art and Design (SVAD) since 2000.
Bowers and Voros’ 2016 divorce was “partly because Voros had engaged in one or more improper sexual relationships with students and/or former students,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit describes several incidents where Voros allegedly harassed Bowers from 2017 through 2019.
Here’s one of the incidents in Bowers’ lawsuit…
“On or around March 8, 2017, Voros visited Bowers’ office on campus and made unwelcome physical and sexual advances toward her. Voros became hostile when Bowers asked him to leave. Voros physically blocked Bowers from the exit, refused to leave, and refused to allow Bowers to leave. Bowers was frightened that Voros would attempt to physically harm her. Voros eventually left after Bowers repeatedly asked him to leave her alone.“
She reported the incident to university officials and nothing happened to Voros, according to the lawsuit.
Following that incident, Voros “continued to harass and make unwelcome sexual advances” toward Bowers, the lawsuit said. She told SVAD Chair Peter Chametsky that Voros was sexually harassing her and sending her verbally abusive emails from his work account.
Again, the University of South Carolina took no action, according to the lawsuit.
Voros’ “conduct persisted and grew worse,” the lawsuit said. In emails, he would accuse Bowers of “gleefully slutting around” calling her a “damaged woman.”
On Oct. 31, 2017, Bowers met with Chametsky again to discuss Voros’ conduct and said she feared it would get worse if the university didn’t take any action.
Again, Chametsky said there was nothing he could do and indicated that Voros had a “special relationship” with the former University president and felt that it protected him.
In 2018, Chametsky sent Bowers an employee evaluation that said her “performance as a teacher was suffering because she was allowing personal matters to interfere with her teaching,” the lawsuit said.
When the new department chair, Laura Kissel, took over, Bowers reported Voros’ “long history of inappropriate conduct” and said he was making work impossible for her. Kissel told her to go to HR, the lawsuit said.
After Bowers went up the chain of command to launch further complaints against Voros, the university ultimately took no action, the lawsuit said. In May 2018, Kissel told Bowers that Voros would be fired, but she needs to “stick it out.”
Ultimately, no action was taken to address Voros’ behavior and Bowers was “placed on FMLA leave related to the mental anguish” directly caused by the university and Voros in 2018,” the lawsuit alleged.
She returned to work in 2019, and Voros continued to harass her, according to the lawsuit. At one point in Febuary 2019, Voros visited Bowers’ home without warning, refused to leave, and “raised his fist to her as if he was going to hit her.”
In April 2019, Bowers filed a report with the University of South Carolina Police after Voros allegedly hacked into her social media accounts.
“The UofSC officer made the central focus of his report about ‘alleged domestic violence problems’ and tried to shift the blame to Bowers, stating that if she had no contact with Voros, this would not be happening,” the lawsuit said.
After another report to university officials went unanswered, Bowers met with faculty civility advocate Susan Bonn, who told her to sign a document saying that what she was experiencing was not sexual assault.
Bowers again had to take FMLA leave in the fall of 2019 after she continued to suffer emotional distress due to the university’s alleged inaction, the lawsuit said.
Misenheimer worked as an SVAD instructor from 2014 through 2017. Her lawsuit describes numerous incidents where Voros’ behavior was intimidating, harassing and inappropriate.
Here’s one of those incidents described in Misenheimer’s lawsuit:
“In or around February 2017, Voros took Misenheimer into a closet of a classroom in McMaster College, noting he wanted to show Misenheimer something. After they entered the closet, he shut the door. In the dark, Voros came up behind her, leaned over her, put his arm around her, and held a plastic head in front of her face. He whispered into Misenheimer‘s ear to look through a small window in the closet. Misenheimer could feel his heavy breath on her skin, and the front of his body touching the back of her body. Misenheimer froze in fear and felt disgusted and intimidated by Voros’ actions. Misenheimer believed Defendant Voros was making a sexual advance toward her.”
Misenheimer reported the incident to Chametsky — who is also accused of mishandling a separate sexual harassment incident by dismissing the woman’s claims and telling her to “think of the guy,” the lawsuit said.
Bowers said Chametsky threatened her job after she complained about Voros’ threatening behavior, the lawsuit said.
In March 2017, a student told the university police that she was concerned about Voros’ behavior and officers told her they would patrol the art building on days when Voros was working. However, police later said they couldn’t do that until it was confirmed he committed a crime, the lawsuit said.
Like Bowers, Misenheimer reported Voros’ threatening behavior to Kissel when she took over as chair, according to the lawsuit.
In September 2018, Misenheimer was told Voros made threats about her and said she was a liar who was going to jail, the lawsuit said.
“I’m going to get her,” Voros wrote, according to the lawsuit.
She emailed Kissel and a number of university officials about the threats from Voros. Kissel reported the incident to the office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP), the lawsuit said.
The university failed to take any action against Voros and allowed him to keep working despite the large amount of complaints launched against him, the lawsuit said. The situation ultimately led to Misenheimer’s resignation.
Attorneys Samantha Albrecht and Beth Bowen, of Cromer Babb Porter & Hicks in Columbia, South Carolina, are representing Misenheimer and Bowers in the case.
“Unfortunately, this is not our first case against the University related to Defendant Voros’ behavior, and I fear it won’t be our last if the University continues to allow this type of behavior,” Albrect said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].
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