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PCC's Bia resigns over sexual harassment allegations

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PCC's Bia resigns over sexual harassment allegations

Longtime Pima Community College administrator Johnson Bia is resigning after a school investigation into female employees' allegations of sexual harassment found his behavior violated college policies.

A college report said Bia "consistently leers at female subordinate staff," made inappropriate comments and hugged female but not male staff.

Bia, who has worked at Pima for 22 years, has immediately stepped aside as president of the Desert Vista Campus and will retire on June 3.

"It is critical that all PCC employees feel free to express their concerns about potentially difficult workplace situations. No matter what you do or where you work at PCC, there should be no barrier to open and honest communication," college Chancellor Lee Lambert said in an email to employees announcing Bia's retirement.

"I have simply concluded it is time to move on," Bia said in an email he sent to all Pima employees. He did not address the allegations.

Pima is working to straighten out a laundry list of administrative troubles pointed out by the Higher Learning Commission. That accrediting body placed the community college on probation last year, citing in part the poor handling of allegations that former chancellor Roy Flores sexually harassed female employees.

According to an internal report released Thursday by the school, Pima's staff attorney and director of Employee Relations interviewed a female employee in February after she alleged that Bia was engaging in "inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature."

The woman, whose identity and position at the school were redacted from the report, told Pima officials that "Bia is 'eerie and creepy' and she feels like she needs to take a shower every day after work" and that she was "hurt and offended as well as grossed out."

The woman, referred to as "the Complainant" in the report, told school investigators that she was at times not going into work to avoid encountering Bia.

The Complainant told Pima's general counsel, Jeff Silvyn, and Employee Relations Director Alison Colter-Mack that she was prompted to report her concerns about Bia after he told her "it just smells so good" after taking a whiff of her perfume.

The Complainant told the college's investigators that "Bia works innuendo into every conversation they have," the 24-page report said.

"Are you on the menu?," Bia once asked her as she worked on a listing of foods to be prepared for a college event, she told investigators.

The woman told Silvyn and Colter-Mack about an incident in early February when she "she drove back to campus to get her phone charger that she had left in the office. She saw his car in the parking lot and stayed in her car because she was scared to run into him. Instead of taking the chance of running into him she just went to a store and purchased a new charger," the report said.

Another female employee, identified only in the report as Witness A, told investigators that Bia would hug her, had asked her about her dating preferences, that she had "caught Bia taking pictures of her back to side profile" while she was doing her hair at work, and that had he was "scared to death" when she ran into Bia and his wife at a department store.

Witness A said that she "no longer goes to the (Board of Governors) meetings because she does not want to run into Bia," the report said.

Another female employee told investigators that she "knows that the Complainant was afraid and there is still fear for a lot of people even though the chancellor says things are changing."

Another employee, Witness C, told investigators that she felt Bia looked at her as if she were naked:

In November 2013, there was a dress that she used to wear. Bia made a comment that the dress was "sexy." She thought that he was trying to tell her the dress was inappropriate, but she did not think that the dress was inappropriate for work. The witness went on to say that this comment was in passing "like he was trying to make a joke." She stated, however, that she got an "icky, gross feeling" and ended up going home to change her dress. Witness C asserted that following this, she has never worn the dress again. She stated that overall, the way that Bia looks at people; he makes you feel "gross" and uncomfortable. ... She explained further that sometimes she feels "naked" by the way that Bia looks at her.

Of another employee, Witness E, the report said:

It is the witness's contention that Bia has "leered" at her as well. Bia never made eye contact with her (the witness), but was always looking at her breasts or lower private part. If she was wearing jeans, Bia would look at her crotch; if she was wearing a dress, he would look at her breasts. Witness E asserted that she would always cover the areas that he was focused on noting that he would never turn away and would continue to leer. She added that if she were called into his work area or when she saw him; she would cover the area that he was leering at – her breasts or her crotch with a folder or anything she had in her hand. The witness told the Complainant "this is what I do when he looks at me." She showed the Complainant how she covers the area that Bia is focused on. She went on to say, however, that Bia has never made any inappropriate comments to her. She added, however, that every time she would walk into his area, it felt as if he was looking her up and down.

Bia told investigators that the employee identified as the Complainant in the report was on probation because of an investigation into an incident, that nature of which was redacted from the college's report. "The Complainant's timesheets show a pattern of absences, annual and sick leave," the report said.

The report said that according to a Witness F, "Complainant would have absences at times that seemed odd such as she would call in sick after taking her lunch hour."

Bia, who was paid $168,000 annually, told investigators the Complainant "may have brought forward this complaint against him because he was holding her accountable for her absenteeism," the report said.

Witness E told investigators that "the Complainant has expressed to her that she is uncomfortable and that she (the Complainant) will also make excuses not to be there or leave for lunch when Bia is there. She went on to say that the Complainant has apologized to her for not coming into work because she did not want to be around Bia."

According the the report's summary, "evidence consistently showed that Bia did engage in flirtatious behavior with young female subordinate staff that was neither welcomed nor wanted. Witnesses asserted that Bia
would pry and probe into their personal lives; make comments and ask questions that were not related to his role of Campus President."

"The evidence, as presented, does not meet the threshold of actionable sexual harassment; however, the behavior exhibited by Bia in his position of Campus President toward subordinate staff violates College policy, and does not fit within the standard that has been set for College employees and executive administrators in particular," the report said.

From the report's summary:

Evidence supports that Bia has repeatedly made inappropriate comments not only to the Complainant, but also to other subordinate female employees within the organization. The preponderance of evidence suggests that Bia has commented on female subordinate staff personal attire, personal lives, and other areas that cross the superordinate/subordinate threshold. Moreover, there was substantial evidence suggesting that Bia consistently leers at female subordinate staff that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Based upon the evidence presented, it can be reasonably argued that Bia's behavior rose to the level of improper and unprofessional, and as such, the Complainant and witnesses, as noted by several of them, were fearful of coming forward because of Bia's position of Campus President. Moreover, Bia's behavior lends itself to that of positional power over subordinate staff which may have contributed to their fear. As noted during the investigation, Bia acted as if he was untouchable and people began to believe that he was.

Lambert, who now finds his college with four of six campus presidencies vacant, told employees that, "As you know, concerns were recently raised about Dr. Bia’s professional conduct. The College looked into them and, as a result, Johnson and I agreed that it was in everyone’s best interest that he retires at this time."

"As public servants, we all must be mindful that our conduct must be held to the highest standards. A goal we should all share as PCC employees is to maintain the highest level of professionalism," Lambert said.

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jeff silvyn, johnson bia, lee lambert, pcc

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