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SDSU Spanish Professor accused of sexually harrassing students

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Another Woman Sexually Harassed by SDSU Spanish Professor Vincent Martin

Local employment attorney discusses possible liability for university

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    A San Diego State University professor is still teaching classes, despite internal investigations that confirm he sexually harassed at least two of his former students. NBC 7's Mari Payton reports. (Published Thursday, May 7, 2015)

    A San Diego State University professor is still teaching classes, despite internal investigations that confirm he sexually harassed at least two of his former students.

    NBC 7 Investigates first exposed this situation by sharing details about a female student who accused Professor Vincent Martin of sexual harassment. That student provided copies of hundreds of texts and emails from Martin that she said were unwanted and inappropriate. Martin sent them to her during the summer and fall semesters in 2013.

    A “Notice of Investigation Outcome” from SDSU summarizes a nearly year-long investigation by the University's Office of Employee Relations. According to the investigation documents, Martin was found to have "engaged in conduct of a sexually oriented nature… deemed sufficiently severe to constitute sexual harassment.”

    Another of Martin’s former students is now voicing complaints against Martin, including allegations Martin was physically aggressive, sent obscene text message and tried to kiss her against her will.

    A year-long investigation by SDSU substantiated her complaints.

    “His behavior is not the normal behavior that a professor should have towards his students,” that second student told NBC 7 Investigates. “Especially female students.”

    Both women asked NBC 7 not to disclose their names. They said they fear Martin could damage their standing in the Spanish department, hurt their chances of getting accepted to graduate school and harm their career opportunities. The two women also said they are scared Martin might try to physically harm them for publicly discussing their complaints.

    According to the second woman, Martin crossed the line of proper behavior at an academic conference in El Paso, Texas in March 2013. Martin, his female assistant and five other graduate teaching assistants attended that conference on Spanish theater.

    The student said she was shocked when Martin grabbed her hand in front of the other students, and said, “You and me, let’s go.” She said he took her to the hotel’s hospitality suite, where he encouraged her to steal a container of wine.

    “So I mean, I did,” she recalled. “You’re talking about a person [who’s] my professor. He’s in a position of authority. I did it.”

    What she said happened next was much more upsetting.

    "He got really close to me,” she recalled. “He was about to kiss me. So I took a step back. And when I took a step back, he didn't take a step back. He took a step forward. Again, I took another step back, and he took another step forward.

    “I was shocked,” the student said, “and I was really scared. I couldn't believe that a professor would get that close and would try to kiss me. I couldn't even speak."

    She said Martin made other inappropriate comments to her – and about her -- to other students during that trip. She said Martin also sent a text message to a male student asking “Are you f***ing [the student]?”

    “We were all in shock when we read that text message,” she said. “I never solicited that kind of behavior. He had absolutely no right to do that.”

    Martin has not responded to our requests for comment on this story. His attorney told us last month Martin disagrees with the finding that he sexually harassed the first student, but that lawyer has not responded to questions about the second student’s allegations or the findings of that investigation.

    The second student said Martin later sent her a series of rambling emails which she interpreted as veiled threats to her safety. She saved copies of those emails and showed them to NBC 7 Investigates. They are written in broken English and phrased as if they were written by a female. They were also sent from different email addresses, none of them directly linked to Martin.

    She said those emails made her so nervous she avoided him on campus and parked her car in different locations so she could quickly get away after class.

    The emails and Martin’s behavior at the conference, made her “really scared.” She said she feared for her safety, “not just for me, but for my family. I would always check on my tires, and when I was driving I would always check my rear view mirror.”

    She filed a report with Chula Vista police, who suggested she contact SDSU campus police. After talking with SDSU campus police, she filed a formal complaint against Martin with SDSU’s Office of Employee Relations and Compliance in August 2013.

    That investigation took a year. SDSU released its findings in a confidential report dated August 21, 2014, the same date as the other report related to the first woman's complaint.

    A copy of that report, obtained by NBC 7 Investigates, confirms investigators interviewed the student, Professor Martin, three other faculty members and 14 current or former SDSU students.

    The outcome confirmed her version of events at the El Paso conference and found Martin “...engaged in conduct of a sexually oriented nature... sufficiently severe to constitute sexual harassment."

    Both women, along with other students in SDSU’s Spanish department, told NBC 7 Investigates Martin has harassed other female students besides these two women.

    Outraged by those revelations, members and supporters of SDSU’s Andrea O’Donnell Womyn’s Outreach Association staged a silent protest Tuesday outside Martin’s office at the University’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

    Employment law expert Bibi Fell said the findings of those two investigations put SDSU on notice that Martin is a risk.

    "While he's still teaching, there's certainly the risk that other students are being harassed," Fell said. Fell is a senior trial lawyer with Gomez Trial Attorneys in San Diego.

    If Martin harasses another student, Fell said that victim could have ample evidence to sue Martin, the University and California taxpayers for emotional distress and other damages.

    "And what we find is that when a jury sees a pattern of conduct that should have been stopped but wasn't, they tend to hit the defendant hard."

    NBC 7 Investigates confirmed Martin is still teaching classes. According to SDSU’s Chief Communications Officer Greg Block, Martin was scheduled to teach a Summer Session class this June at SDSU but the class was recently cancelled due to low enrollment.

    The protestors and the two women said they are angry and insulted Martin continues to teach a full schedule.

    "As a student, you file the complaint. And yes, he's guilty,” said the second student. “But that's it. You're not protected. And he's still going to be teaching. So we definitely need to change something about these regulations."

    The university won't confirm or deny whether Martin has been disciplined and says it can't disclose anything about the investigative or disciplinary process without violating Martin's right to privacy.

    Read the full statement from SDSU below:

    “Given the nature of sexual harassment complaints and our desire to encourage individuals to come forward with complaints without fear that the complaint will become public, the university does not comment on specific complaints or investigations. While we appreciate that the campus community has significant interest when allegations of sexual harassment are made, it is also important that the process for adjudicating claims be a fair one and that all facts be heard. Any person accused also has rights, which includes privacy in connection with personnel matters. They also have rights, under either collective bargaining agreements or by law, to respond to any allegations, which could include appealing any disciplinary action. The university is committed to protecting the rights of all concerned. We urge the campus community to allow any required process to take place.”

    NBC 7 Investigates is working for you. If you have more information about this or other story tips, contact us: (619) 578-0393, NBC7Investigates@nbcuni.com. To receive the latest NBC 7 Investigates stories, subscribe to our newsletter.

    Ed. Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly associated this investigation with the San Diego Police Department. We regret the error.