A student and an employee at Fresno State University charge that campus officials bungled multiple claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. In December, two lawsuits were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court targeting the California State University system and two former Fresno State administrators.
The plaintiffs allege the school was negligent by mishandling their claims. The lawsuits seek damages for emotional distress and violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, forbidding harassment and retaliation.
The plaintiffs, Terry Wilson and Stephanie Ocampo, were featured in a 2022 USA Today investigation into former Fresno State President Joseph Castro and Frank Lamas, Vice President of Student Affairs at that time. Both are named in the lawsuit. The report found the university failed to address numerous sexual harassment, retaliation and bullying claims against Lamas. The investigation also concluded that Castro neglected the University’s Title IX office, which oversees the federal law banning sex discrimination in education.
Plaintiff – Terry Wilson
Wilson says during his first week on the job in 2014, Lamas made the first of many inappropriate comments to him, including asking if he was gay. He reported Lamas’ conduct to the Title IX coordinator, but no action was taken. Once Lamas learned of the complaint, Wilson says Lamas repeatedly retaliated against him by bullying and belittling him in front of colleagues.
Wilson says Lamas made things so impossible that he sought a transfer to a different department, but Lamas denied the request. Wilson later went to work for the CSU Employees Union, which has an office on campus. After Wilson appeared in USA Today’s report last year, he said university officials revoked his key card, meaning he couldn’t access his workplace.
Plaintiff – Stephanie Ocampo
Ocampo was also featured in USA Today’s 2022 investigation. She was a double major in journalism and political science at Fresno State in 2020 when she reported being accosted by a fellow student. Ocampo says while walking down the hall, a male student came up behind her, put her in a headlock and groped her breasts. She says she feared for her life. When her attacker finally released her, she suffered bruising on her neck.
Ocampo reported the assault the next day but says campus police never took her seriously. She says the officer interviewing her used a victim-blaming line of questioning, such as whether she did something to provoke the sexual assault or whether she had flirted with the student. A police report says the officer who questioned her didn’t talk to the male student until two weeks later, asking him if he remembered “hugging” Ocampo. No arrest was ever made.
The attack was reported to the Title IX officer, who took steps to keep Ocampo and the other student from being in the same place. But Ocampo says she was removed from the classroom she shared with the other student while the school allowed him to remain. She says she had to meet with the professor after class to catch up on coursework. The next fall, the school informed her two hours before starting a class she needed to graduate that the other student was also enrolled in that same class.
Both administrators step down
From 2014 to 2019, Fresno State received nine complaints against Lamas for inappropriate conduct. He left Fresno State last year, but USA Today says the University paid him thousands of dollars to resign and gave him a letter of recommendation. Castro, characterized in an outside investigation as having a “blind spot” for Lamas, stepped down as President in February of 2022. However, he is still listed as a business school faculty member.
Wilson and Ocampo say they hope their lawsuit will help change the system that has nearly destroyed their lives and careers.