NEW BRITAIN - Employment records obtained by The Herald through a Freedom of Information request indicate that Central Connecticut State University officials investigated claims that Professor Joshua Perlstein was sexually harassing students and staff for years but that CCSU failed to seriously discipline him.
Within 168 pages of documents released by the university Tuesday, students and at least one female professor outlined behavior committed by Perlstein that included “oinking” at females, unwanted touching, unwanted comments and repercussions for reporting his behavior.
A separate female staff member reported to university officials in November 2016 that Perlstein was harassing her because he thought she and her husband had voted for Donald Trump for president and that Perlstein had continually made it a point to touch her while reaching for office materials, according to the documents.
The woman filed a complaint that included statements that she was becoming concerned about Perlstein’s behavior because he had looked up her home address and had determined that her husband was a registered Republican. “I am beyond angry and frustrated with the way I have been treated,” the woman said.
The school’s Office of Diversity & Equity took no action because “political affiliation is not a protected class,” according to a letter sent to the staff member. She was told that the matter would remain within the Human Resources department of the school and she was free to file a complaint with an “external agency” such as the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
Another female reported in 2014 that Perlstein behaved aggressively toward her and other professors in the Theatre Department where he worked.
Two students also filed sexual harassment or misconduct complaints - one in 2004 and one in 2014 - against Perlstein. The 2004 case was investigated, but the 2014 was abruptly dropped without being investigated, the documents indicated. The school has also investigated at least one claim that Perlstein was having a “consensual” relationship with a female student. That case was also referred to the Human Resources department, the documents said.
CCSU President Zulma Toro said in a statement issued Tuesday that Perlstein remains on paid administrative leave but she is working to “expedite the appropriate processes” to deal with the situation.
Claims that Perlstein had sexually harassed female staff and students came to light in April after the school’s student newspaper, The Recorder, published a story that included interviews with women who claimed to be victimized by Perlstein at the university.
The school initially told The Recorder that it had no official records related to complaints against Perlstein. However, the documents released Tuesday show that students and staff had been filing complaints about his behavior since at least 2005.
The records also show that Perlstein received only minor disciplinary action, including in one case he was told not to speak to a female student after officials substantiated her 2004 claim that he had inappropriately kissed her and tried to suggest that the two go out to dinner.
In another case, he was told to watch his speech around other staff members after a female professor submitted a lengthy formal complaint that she was singled out by him for off color remarks, criticism and retribution when she complained. The woman was denied tenure and hired a lawyer to address the claims with the university, the documents said.
The university told Perlstein to “be cautious of what you say and how you treat others in the workplace” but did not discipline him in any fashion after reviewing her complaint which spanned years.
Toro said the school’s collective bargaining agreement with the union representing professors “prohibits me from taking certain actions at this time.” Toro went on to say that if she had been at the helm when the complaints were filed that she “would have handled (the incidents) quite differently.”
The school is still investigating the allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.