Former Sonoma State University administrator received $600,000 settlement over retaliation for reporting alleged sexual harassment
The California State University system paid $600,000 in January to a former top Sonoma State University administrator to resolve a dispute related to staff complaints of sexual harassment involving SSU President Judy Sakaki’s husband, records obtained by The Press Democrat reveal.
The seven-page settlement and the claim that triggered it show former provost Lisa Vollendorf accused Sakaki of retaliation for reporting sexual harassment complaints by several female Sonoma State employees against Patrick McCallum. He is Sakaki’s husband and a prominent education lobbyist.
Vollendorf in 2018 reported allegations to the California State University executive vice chancellor, “which painted a cohesive picture of harassment” by McCallum, according to Vollendorf’s July 26, 2021, claim.
That claim and the ensuing settlement — signed Jan. 13 by Vollendorf, CSU’s attorney, Sakaki and McCallum — were provided to The Press Democrat on Wednesday morning by the CSU Chancellor’s Office based in Long Beach after a public records request.
The documents do not describe specific behavior or detailed allegations related to McCallum.
But on Wednesday afternoon, university spokesperson Julia Gonzalez said the nature of complaints brought to administrators, “even if they were substantiated, would not likely constitute sexual harassment.”
“(They) involved complaints of touching and conversations that made some individuals uncomfortable,” she said.
Sakaki, in a statement late Wednesday, said she was “surprised and saddened” when she heard of the allegations against her husband.
“Although he denies engaging in any inappropriate behavior, it was important for him and me to learn about these concerns,” her statement read. “There have been no complaints since we were informed of the concerns.”
Sakaki also denied allegations that she retaliated against any employee, calling Vollendorf’s claims “utterly without basis.”
Vollendorf’s complaint says, “Less than three months after Dr. Vollendorf received an exemplary performance evaluation as provost from Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki in 2018, several women affiliated with SSU approached Dr. Vollendorf with allegations of sexual harassment.
“The allegations — all of which painted a cohesive picture of harassment — were against President Sakaki’s husband, Patrick McCallum, who was an active presence on campus, including attending many SSU-sponsored events attended by employees.”
The claim accused CSU of failing to “follow its own policies related to harassment and discrimination.”
Sexual harassment includes “unwelcome verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature," according to CSU's definition.
The settlement also accused CSU of “negligently failing to control President Sakaki’s conduct as required” by a 2019 separation agreement she reached with Vollendorf.
McCallum issued a short written statement late Wednesday saying he was proud of his service as a Sonoma State volunteer. “I deny any allegation that I engaged in any wrongful conduct toward anyone,” he said.
Vollendorf declined to comment Wednesday.
“The University takes allegations of sexual harassment very, very seriously,” said Gonzalez, the SSU spokesperson.
“The allegations of any unprofessional conduct by President Sakaki’s spouse were carefully reviewed by the system’s Title IX compliance officer. They concluded that the conduct that was reported would not likely constitute sexual harassment by policy’s standards,” she added.
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education.
People interviewed didn’t want to engage in a formal complaint process. Based on that, the Title IX officer conducted no further investigation, Gonzalez said.
According to excerpts from the Title IX investigation shared by Gonzalez, of the four people the compliance officer reached out to, one person declined to be interviewed. One said they hadn’t been harassed by Sakaki’s spouse and didn’t want to make a complaint and another said they hadn’t witnessed harassment.
A fourth person said they did not want a formal investigation but requested that McCallum be talked to about what is considered appropriate behavior.
“As I said, I am not asking for any remedy as I do not think I have been harmed but I am glad to have spoken to you about a situation that has been difficult to negotiate,” the person said, according to an excerpt of the Title IX report shared by Gonzalez.
Vollendorf filed the claim after Sakaki reportedly violated the terms of a 2019 separation agreement that transferred Vollendorf’s employment to the Chancellor’s Office in 2020. She spent a year there before leaving to take a job as interim provost at the University of Northern Colorado.