Saturday, November 17, 2018
Education

USF reviewing sex harassment finding at administrator's previous job

TAMPA — For the second time this year, the University of South Florida is admitting it hired a highly-paid administrator without knowing he had been found by a previous employer to have engaged in inappropriate, on-campus sexual behavior.

Herb Maschner, 57, who directs a new USF center using the latest technologies to document archeological finds, sexually harassed a coworker who was a 28-year-old graduate student at Idaho State University when they met, Idaho State says in court papers.

Maschner showered his coworker with unwanted attention for four months before he forcibly kissed and groped her in October 2013 on the university campus in the western Idaho city of Pocatello, according to the court documents.

Maschner declined a request for an interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday.

USF said Maschner, who started at USF in August 2015, didn't tell his boss about the sexual harassment finding until last month — more than a year later.

"I am truly sorry this has come up," Maschner wrote to Eric Eisenberg, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, according to an email USF provided the Times. He requested the meeting with Eisenberg, saying in the email that a newspaper in Idaho was about to publish a story about the lawsuit.

Questions arose earlier this year about USF's diligence in screening job candidates when The Tampa Tribune revealed that the director of its advertising and communications school had resigned from Texas Tech University because of an investigation into his dealings with students. The Tribune has since been taken over by the Times.

USF DIRECTOR FIRED:WAS HIRED DESPITE LAPSES AT TEXAS TECH

USF fired the director, Samuel Bradley, on June 30 after finding he was "deceptive" when he applied and interviewed for the new job. Shortly after, the university instituted more rigorous hiring procedures.

USF failed to check with Texas Tech before hiring Bradley. It was unclear Wednesday whether it had checked with Idaho State about Maschner's history there.

The university did say the process of hiring Maschner did not include the same reference checks "routinely applied to other searches at the time and now required by USF policy in all searches," USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said Tuesday.

Maschner makes $195,000 as executive director of the Center for Virtualization and Applied Spatial Technologies, which uses new technologies to document archeological finds. He holds the rank of professor, jointly appointed in the Department of Anthropology and School of Geosciences.

Maschner had earned accolades as director of the Idaho Museum of Natural History at Idaho State and was recruited by USF, Wade said. The university is now looking into the sexual harassment finding at Idaho State.

"USF recently became aware of allegations made against Dr. Herbert Maschner during his time at Idaho State University," Wade said in a prepared statement. "The university is currently reviewing this information. Maschner was hired after being identified as a national leader in virtualization ... "

USF has no policy that prevents hiring a candidate found to have engaged in sexual harassment at another university, Wade said.

"The underlying facts of each case would be carefully considered in making the final hiring decision," she said.

The new hiring policy does require documented reference checks as a condition of employment. At least three references must be contacted, one of whom must be the applicant's current immediate supervisor, before a final hiring decision is made.

Maschner was named in a complaint to Idaho State by Kelly Pokorny, who worked for him as education resources coordinator at the Idaho State museum beginning in 2012.

In January 2014, university investigators substantiated Pokorny's claim, found a counterclaim by Maschner to be "without merit," and determined he had violated the school's sexual harassment policy, according to court papers filed by Idaho State.

The university is defending itself against a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Pokorny. Trial is scheduled Dec. 6.

Idaho State ordered Maschner to attend sexual harassment training, issued him a formal reprimand and suspended him for two weeks without pay. He failed to complete the sexual harassment training before leaving ISU to take the job at USF.

In the months before he left, ISU gave him a 1 percent merit pay increase, raising his annual salary to $137,550 according to court documents.

In an interview with the Times Tuesday, Pokorny lamented that Maschner's fortunes are on the rise while hers have tumbled.

"I've been humiliated, I've been made a fool of," Pokorny said. "The person responsible for this gets promoted with raises and gets to teach in France for a semester and here I am. I have to start all over in my career."

Pokorny worked hard to land her "dream job," she said, managing the museum's library, working with docents and coordinating community outreach.

There was little interaction between her and Maschner until the summer of 2013. Pokorny had worked from home for four months during a difficult pregnancy; a twin daughter died and her son remained ill.

On the morning of her return to the museum, Maschner came to her office unexpectedly and broke down sobbing, revealing he and his wife were getting a divorce. It was the first personal conversation they had ever had, she said.

"I didn't know how to get him out of my office so I offered him a hug, which I would have offered to anyone in that circumstance," Pokorny said. "He responded, 'In my state of mind, I would grab you inappropriately,' which I thought was very weird and inappropriate."

The uncomfortable interactions escalated over the following four months, she said. Then, on a Friday in October 2013, Pokorny was on the phone in her office when Maschner closed the door, grabbed her buttocks and kissed her, she said.

"It's changed everything," Pokorny said. "It's changed how I see myself. It affected my belief in what I was doing and made me question if I was doing something wrong, or maybe wasn't doing as good a job as I thought I was."

She took voluntary leave for four months while Idaho State investigated her sexual harassment complaint, she said. While she was away, Maschner began complaining to university officials about her work performance, according to court documents, saying she misused her employee credit card and abused the chance to work from home.

Pokorny expected to return to her job. Instead, the university sought a position for her outside the museum. At one point, she worked in a basement storage room with no assignment, phone or computer.

She eventually was moved to a position in the College of Education for which she lacked qualifications, she said. Though still technically employed by Idaho State, Pokorny hasn't returned to work in three years. She is now on Social Security Disability for mental health reasons.

She said she pities the officials overseeing Maschner at USF.

"I feel like he's a repeat offender," she said, "and it could only be a matter of time before they have a lawsuit on their hands."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

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