CHAPEL HILL — A top UNC-Chapel Hill official testified Wednesday she wasn’t aware of sexual harassment complaints against a housekeeping supervisor when his accuser was transferred to another part of campus.
Vice Chancellor for Campus Services Carolyn Elfland said she also didn’t know about the allegations when the university hired PRM Consultants to review the housekeeping department in March 2011. That review found about two-thirds of housekeepers believe management does not promote an environment free of harassment, attorney Al McSurely said.
Elfland testified about the university’s handling of harassment claims Wednesday in the Moot Courtroom at the UNC-CH School of Law.
The first harassment claim was made by Maria Isabel Prudencio-Arias, who says the university mishandled her 2010 sexual harassment case against her former supervisor, Bill Burston. She said Burston, the former director of Housekeeping Services, retaliated against her for speaking out, but a formal investigation could not confirm that.
While the claim was investigated, Burston was placed on leave but continued to make his roughly $85,000 salary, Elfland said. She transferred him after the investigation because the administration thought reinstating him during the PRM survey period “might have a chilling effect on people willing to speak out,” she said.
Burston later resigned.
McSurely, Prudencio-Arias’ attorney, said Burston made her the target of his unwanted sexual attention multiple times and ignored the work restrictions her doctor ordered at the time because of a fall at work that had hurt her back and hands.
Elfland testified that Prudencio-Arias was transferred to the Kenan Charitable Trust to lighten her workload. However, Kenan Trust officials complained about her performance, Elfland said, and she also found issues with Prudencio-Arias’ work at the School of Government.
The only other option was to move her where she could work with others on the Hinton James residential crew, she said, but that crew also had a heavier workload.
At the time that Burston and his supervisor, Facilities Services Director Van Dobson, decided to transfer Prudencio-Arias again, Elfland said, she did not know about her complaints.
Dobson left the university in December 2011.
McSurely told Elfland that employees with the School of Government donated 344 hours of their own sick time to Prudencio-Arias after she tried to kill herself because of what was happening to her and had used up her vacation time.
“I don’t know who donated to her or how they felt about her,” Elfland said.
McSurely also asked how Prudencio-Arias’ harassment claim was handled.
University attorney Katherine Murphy contends the N.C. Whistleblower Protection Act, which protects workers who file complaints against their employers, does not apply in this case because the complaint wasn’t filed with the university’s Office of Human Resources.
A UNC-CH employee reporting harassment can request an administrative review or file a grievance.
Prudencio-Arias is seeking damages for emotional distress. The case continues at 9 a.m. Thursday.