Report recommended UMD instructor Rod Raymond be firedUniversity of Minnesota Duluth fitness instructor Rod Raymond should have been fired this summer for what the school deemed a pattern of sexually harassing behavior, according to a report written by a UMD administrator who investigated him.
By: Brandon Stahl and Jana Hollingsworth, News Tribune
University of Minnesota Duluth fitness instructor Rod Raymond should have been fired this summer for what the school deemed a pattern of sexually harassing behavior, according to a report written by a UMD administrator who investigated him.
But while Raymond was disciplined, he ultimately was allowed to keep his job and continues to teach at the school. University officials thought the lesser discipline Raymond received was sufficiently strong and “appropriate to stop the behaviors,” UMD spokeswoman Susan Latto said.
She and others, however, have declined to elaborate about why the university didn’t follow the firing recommendation of Deborah Petersen-Perlman, the UMD director of the Office of Equal Opportunity. Last July, Petersen-Perlman presented administrators with an 11-page report saying Raymond was responsible for creating “a hostile work environment due to sexual harassment.”
“By not taking a strong stand against this behavior, we place UMD in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis a lawsuit with respect to sexual harassment,” Petersen-Perlman wrote.
In her report, obtained by the News Tribune under Minnesota’s open records law, Petersen-Perlman wrote that numerous women came forward to report that Raymond made sexually suggestive advances toward them. She wrote that this led to “a pattern of sexually inappropriate language and behavior.”
Petersen-Perlman also concluded that Raymond retaliated against some of the women who came forward with complaints and said he “exhibits no understanding of the seriousness of the charges.”
“Mr. Raymond has repeatedly demonstrated a propensity for impugning the character of those from whom he’s received criticism or those who have spurned his advances,” she wrote.
Sexual harassment is not tolerated at UMD, according to university policy statements. The school also notes that retaliating against a person who files a harassment complaint is illegal.
In addition to his role at UMD, Raymond is a prominent local endurance athlete and businessman. He is co-owner of Duluth’s Burrito Union restaurant, Fitger’s Brewhouse, the Red Star Lounge and Duluth’s former City Hall building, which he hopes to redevelop.
In a statement issued Saturday, Raymond said he was told his behavior at UMD was never inappropriate until after the complaints were made against him.
“The only thing on my record in 20 years is that I was the outstanding employee, and year after year of outstanding evaluations by my supervisors,” he said. “I don’t make any claims to be [without] mistakes over the years and I have personally apologized to both students immediately last May.”
In an interview last week, Raymond characterized the situations that led up to his discipline as “a big misunderstanding.” He noted that he never admitted guilt.
University Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin said in a prepared statement Friday that after completing the investigation, UMD “found merit to the complaints and took disciplinary action that it considered appropriate.”
She added: “UMD regards the safety of our students as our top priority, and emphasizes that inappropriate, sexually harassing behavior by faculty or staff has no place in our school.”
Raymond’s sanctions included requirements that he complete training in understanding and preventing sexual harassment; have no supervisory responsibilities for the complainants; keep his door open during meetings with women; and take no work-related trips with female students.
Petersen-Perlman’s report documented several incidents of alleged harassment, including:
* Pretending to strip during a personal training test he was giving to a female student, and asking the complainant in a suggestive voice what she was trying to grab as she attempted to measure his body fat below his belt area.
Twelve of 16 witnesses told Petersen-Perlman that Raymond “engages in inappropriate relationships” and “noted that he’s been romantically involved with students over the course of his career at UMD.”
During an interview with Petersen-Perlman, Raymond acknowledged having engaged in relationships with two undergraduate students.
A former student involved in the UMD fitness program reported that on an overnight training program in the Twin Cities Raymond tried to kiss her in a hallway and asked her to come to his room for a back rub.
One complainant said that after she came forward this spring alleging harassment, Raymond walked in on one of her fitness classes and then sat down and stared at her for 20 minutes, according to Petersen-Perlman’s report. The woman also said Raymond later approached her and said, “You’ve taken me down a notch, you called me out,” according to the report.
Petersen-Perlman wrote that while Raymond “does offer overt denials of some of the claims, all too often his responses skirt the central claim.”
The university has said that the complaint lodged against Raymond was the only one in his 20 years with the school. But documents obtained by the News Tribune show that Petersen-Perlman also conducted a harassment investigation in 1997 after a complaint was lodged against him.
In the earlier case, Petersen-Perlman concluded that while the complaint could not be supported, inappropriate behavior on Raymond’s part was corroborated, including him walking around a table during staff meetings and giving back rubs.
Latto said the university had “no knowledge” of that investigation.