University Report: Top U of M Fundraiser Sexually Harassed Woman, Handel Denies 'Any Sexual Intent'

May 17, 2017 05:19 AM

The top fundraiser in the University of Minnesota's Athletics Department violated the school's sexual harassment policy by engaging in a pattern of conduct against a female employee that included unwanted touching, hugging, and inappropriate comments, according to a confidential investigative report reviewed Tuesday by KSTP.

Randy Handel, Associate Director of Development, "created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment" for a woman who worked in the department, investigators in the University's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) determined.

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Handel, who has worked for the University since 2010, was on paid leave last Tuesday.

KSTP broke the story of the sexual harassment investigation the following day.

RELATED: New Bill Would Require U of M to Report Sexual Harassment

The May 3 findings from the EOAA included statements of denial from Handel, the woman who reported the harassment and seven witnesses.

The woman told investigators Handel had hugged or touched her more than 40 times dating back to at least last year – often behind closed doors.

"She recalled asking once if the door needed to be closed, but recognized that she did not have the courage to ask the question repeatedly," investigators wrote.

The woman told Handel on one occasion she was "not comfortable hugging", according to the report.

The woman also stated that she told Handel his "conduct was inappropriate" after another incident in 2016 in which Handel removed fuzz from her lower back.

RELATED: U of M President Refuses to Comment on 3rd Athletic Department Sexual Harassment Violation

Handel acknowledged the incident but disputed the location of his touching.

The woman told investigators that Handel also touched her at other times on her face, neck or upper chest.

"In an attempt to avoid such situations . . . (the woman) said she would often start checking herself in the mirror before meeting with (Handel) to make sure she did not have anything on her for (him) to remove," the report stated.

Handel denied allegations of repeated hugging or touching and insisted to investigators that he "never had any sexual intent in (his) interactions . . ."

Yet, investigators found Handel "engaged in conduct of a sexual nature" towards the woman by hugging and touching her and "making comments about her appearance."

They cited one incident in 2016 in which Handel reportedly called the woman "beautiful" and said "if only I were a few years younger,"  — a statement Handel denied saying.

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Witnesses

Various witnesses described Handel as "sensitive", "emotional" and "affectionate," and for the most part had "positive things to say about their interactions" with him, according to the report.

But other witnesses said the woman described situations where Handel made her feel "uncomfortable."

Four witnesses reported that Handel "sometimes lingered" around the woman, and another witness described him as being 'very touchy' with her.

The university's investigators concluded the witness statements helped make the woman's allegations "more credible" than Handel's denials.

Those investigators specifically noted the significance of the "power differential" that existed between Handel and the woman. "The subordinate person often feels like they have to accept conduct of a sexual nature . . . and find it difficult to object or report the conduct," investigators said.  They added:  ". . . sexual intent or interest is not necessary for a sexual harassment policy violation."

Handel has not returned multiple messages seeking comment on the investigation.

The EOAA report was sent to the woman, Handel, Athletic Director Mark Coyle and Human Resources Director Tricia Budke.

A university spokesperson was unable to say Tuesday when University President Eric Kaler was informed of the findings against Handel.

Joe Augustine

Phone: 651-642-4524

Email: jaugustine@kstp.com

Eric Chaloux

Phone: 651-642-4488

Email: echaloux@kstp.com
 

Credits

Joe Augustine and Eric Chaloux

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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