SRJC administrator on leave after unsupported complaints

Maci Martell, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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After frequent complaints of discrimination and retaliation, Santa Rosa Junior College officials placed an administrator on leave and forced him to vacate the college premises until his retirement date, prompting pending lawsuit.

Assistant Director of Student Affairs Dr. Dean Tahir filed hostile work environment complaints against his supervisor Robert Ethington, dean of student affairs and engagement programs, in early March. SRJC hired Jay Resendez of Common Sense Legal Solutions to investigate Tahir’s allegations and the investigation concluded May 2.

All of the allegations in Tahir’s complaints were deemed unfounded in the investigation summary report, leading him to resign and retire effective July 30.

On May 18, Vice President of Human Resources Karen Furukawa sent Tahir an official email stating the district will be putting him on paid leave effective May 19 through July 31, in which he cannot be on district property without the written consent of Ricardo Navarrette, vice president of student services.

In the email, Furukawa stated, “Given that you continue to complain about a hostile work environment, the District believes that it is in your best interest, and the District’s best interest, to place you on a paid administrative leave effective immediately so that you are no longer working in what you contend is a hostile working environment.”

In the email, SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong stated he supported the decision to put Tahir on administrative leave. When contacted by the Oak Leaf, Chong declined to comment on personnel matters.

Tahir forwarded the email to SRJC faculty along with his statement of planning to sue Ethington for defamation of character.

“The continual disrespect, harassment and retaliation continues,” he said in the email. “Robert Ethington has disclosed information in my personnel file to press and public which is illegal and against State and Federal law. After defaming my character and the continual callousness that I have endured, I have alerted my legal representation today the EEO [Equal Employment Opportunity] has issued a “Right to Sue” letter because of the mistreatment.”

Virginia Kerr, vice president of student life, said whether or not Tahir was being discriminated against, he still wasn’t fulfilling his job requirements and giving her the support she needed.

“I really don’t know if he was experiencing discrimination based on race. And I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say whether or not he was,” Kerr said. “But as far as job performance, it was a problem; and it has affected students and student life in a tremendous way.”

Kerr said Tahir had been a great friend and mentor to her in many ways, as he’s always provided personal support. Yet she felt no professional support from him, which she said was difficult since her position in student life relies on him.

She cited instances of Tahir not showing up to meetings, not communicating when he’d be absent, considerably overspending on pay for an Inter-Club Council assistant and double-booking events, much to the chagrin of faculty and students.

“It was very obvious that student life needed support in terms of just somebody who’s on the ground doing smaller things but able to be present, which is one of the bigger problems with Dean because he wasn’t being as supportive; he wasn’t being present,” Kerr said.

Joshua Pinaula, Student Government Assembly president, reiterated Kerr’s statements on Tahir’s proficiency in being supportive with students, but he lacks managerial responsibility, forcing student workers to do extra work.

“When new [SGA] officers come in, I’ll be very blunt. I’ll be like, ‘look, I’m telling you right now, you will have zero support in anything that you’re doing. Everything you need to do, you have to be the person to do it; and don’t for a second believe anything different,’” Pinaula said.

When situations arouse within the student affairs department, Pinaula said Ethington was effective and pulled through. Kerr said she often went to Ethington for professional support.

“He would also, in a very diplomatic way, let me know that he was in a position where he needed to make sure that Dean had the opportunity to do his job, where he had the opportunity to improve his work performance,” Kerr said.

Pinaula said he’s hopeful about moving forward and rebuilding the department after the departure of several positions within the department.

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