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Unlawful Harassment and Abusive Conduct

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Approved by Thomas F. Rosenbaum, President; Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair; Professor of Physics

1.0 Policy

It is the policy of Caltech to provide a work and academic environment free of unlawful harassment ("harassment") and other abusive conduct. Harassment is a form of misconduct that includes unwelcome physical, verbal, or nonverbal conduct that results in a person feeling intimidated, threatened, humiliated, or demeaned, and is likely to interfere with an individual's work or education, or adversely affects an individual's living conditions.

Harassment in any form, based on any of the following protected characteristics and protected activities ("protected characteristics"), is unlawful and is strictly prohibited at all times, as are all forms of prohibited conduct set forth in the Sex- and Gender-Based Misconduct Policy, including sexual and gender-based harassment and sexual misconduct:

  • Race (includes hair texture and protective hairstyle, as well as ethnicity)
  • Color
  • Religion (includes religious dress and grooming practices)
  • Sex/gender (includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and/or related medical conditions)
  • Gender identity and gender expression
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Medical condition (genetic characteristics, cancer, or a record or history of cancer)
  • Military or veteran status
  • National origin (includes language use and possession of a driver's license issued to persons unable to prove that their presence in the United States is authorized under federal law)
  • Ancestry (including caste)
  • Disability (mental and physical, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, and genetic characteristics)
  • Genetic information
  • Request for family care leave
  • Request for leave for a serious health condition
  • Request for pregnancy disability leave
  • Domestic violence victim status
  • Age (over 40)
  • Criminal background (Fair Chance Act)
  • Any other factor protected by federal, state, or local law
  • Association with an individual who is in one of the foregoing protected characteristics
  • Reproductive health care decision-making

Harassment in the employment environment may include, but is not limited to, these examples.

  • Verbal, physical, and visual conduct that creates an intimidating, offensive, or hostile working environment, or that interferes with work performance, including conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of any protected characteristic.
  • Verbal or written statements, including on social media, such as slurs, offensive jokes, insults, epithets, name calling, or teasing.
  • Visual or graphic images, such as offensive and/or sexually explicit posters, photographs, symbols, cartoons, drawings, computer displays, e-mails, text messages, objects, or digital and social media activity, including blogs, forums, chat rooms, social networking sites, and other social media applications.
  • Making derogatory comments about a person's ancestry, lineage, or caste.
  • Physical conduct, including touching, physical assaults or threats, blocking someone's path or normal movement, gestures, and leering.
  • Other forms of intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults, or put-downs.
  • Interference with work performance.
  • Unwanted sexual advances, invitations, or comments.
  • Threats and demands to submit to sexual requests as a condition of continued employment or to avoid loss of employment benefits.
  • Offers of employment benefits in return for sexual favors.
  • Conversation about one's own or someone else's sex life, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender nonconformity, and/or gender identity.
  • Inappropriate conduct or comments consistently targeted at only one gender, race, or another protected characteristic.

Harassment in the educational setting also includes harassment based on protected characteristics that is contrary to the pursuit of inquiry and education. The following are examples of behaviors that may constitute harassment in the educational setting:

  • an advisor tells a minority student not to take a certain course because the adviser says that other minority students have had difficulty in the course;
  • a disabled individual is not included in an off-site outing because of lack of mobility;
  • a faculty member assigns only menial tasks to a minority student worker while assigning more complex tasks to a Caucasian student worker who is at the same educational level;
  • a student tells racially offensive jokes within a study group session with other students;
  • an individual is ostracized from group activities because of their national origin;
  • a student posts racist jokes to a house email list.

Complaints concerning sex and gender-based discrimination and harassment and sexual misconduct are governed by the Sex- and Gender-Based Misconduct Policy.

The unauthorized collection, distribution, or publication by means of an electronic communication device of another individual's personal identifying information or private or confidential information, for purposes that are in violation of the law, including with the intent to cause fear, injury, or harassment (commonly referred to as "doxxing") is in violation of Caltech's policies. For purposes of this policy, electronic communication devices include, but are not limited to, social media sites, telephones, cellular phones, websites, internet web pages, and computers.

Some kinds of behavior that are clearly intended to harass (abusive conduct), while inappropriate and not tolerated at Caltech, may not constitute harassment but nevertheless violate Caltech policy. Abusive conduct, also referred to as bullying, is malicious conduct occurring in a work or educational setting that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to Caltech's legitimate business or educational interests. Examples of abusive conduct may include:

  • repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, verbal epithets;
  • physical conduct that can be considered threatening, intimidating, or humiliating;
  • a single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious;

Caltech is committed to educating the community in ways to prevent harassment and abusive conduct. Caltech requires all employees, including those responsible for directing or supervising other Caltech employees or evaluating the work of students, to regularly participate in training regarding harassment, and the prevention of harassment and other abusive conduct, consistent with federal and state legal requirements.

2.0 Scope

This policy applies to all members of the Caltech community, including at JPL (students, faculty, supervisory and nonsupervisory employees, postdoctoral scholars, volunteers, interns, vendors, contractors, persons performing services under contract with Caltech, visitors, and any other individuals regularly or temporarily employed, studying, living, visiting, or otherwise participating in Caltech's employment and education programs and activities). This policy applies to conduct occurring on Institute-controlled property, at Institute-sponsored events and in Institute employment and education programs and activities regardless of location.

3.0 Reporting Complaints and Concerns

Caltech's ability to remedy harassment and abusive conduct and maintain an environment free of harassment and abusive conduct is limited if incidents are not reported. Anyone who witnesses, experiences, or is otherwise aware of conduct that they believe to be in violation of this policy, including retaliation, is urged to immediately report it, or to request assistance and guidance. Complaints or concerns about harassment should be reported to the Equity and Title IX Office or one of the Equal Employment Opportunity coordinators listed below, at campus, or the Employee Relations Group at JPL. Reports may be made at any time. A delay should not discourage anyone from reporting harassment. Delayed reporting is better than no reporting. Reports may be made in writing or orally. Harassment complaints are addressed under the Procedures for Complaints of Unlawful Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation.

Complaints or concerns about abusive conduct (1) against a student should be reported to the appropriate dean, (2) against a staff member or postdoctoral scholar to Employee & Organizational Development, (3) against a faculty member to the appropriate Division Chair or the Office of the Provost, and (4) against a JPL employee to Employee Relations at JPL. In order to make an appropriate judgment as to whether incidents are appropriately investigated as harassment or abusive conduct, the full context in which the conduct occurred will be evaluated. Complaints are considered based on the totality of the facts and circumstances.

While the Procedures for Complaints of Unlawful Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation do not apply to complaints of abusive conduct, Caltech will conduct a fair, timely, and thorough investigation into or review of complaints of such conduct and take appropriate steps to address any abusive conduct that is found to have occurred.

Members of the Caltech community are encouraged to err on the side of reporting any conduct they think may be harassment or abusive conduct covered under this policy, regardless of where the incident occurred or who committed it. Even if Caltech does not have jurisdiction over the incident or the perpetrator, Caltech will take reasonable action to remedy the effects of the harassment or abusive conduct on the Caltech community and prevent any reoccurrence of the behavior.

Any employee in a supervisory role, including faculty, must promptly report all alleged harassment, discrimination, gender-based misconduct, and retaliation, regardless of its alleged severity or frequency, to the Equity and Title IX Office at campus or Human Resources at JPL, which will provide guidance and advice. In addition, other employees qualifying as responsible employees under the Sex- and Gender-Based Misconduct Policy, Section II, Reporting Concerns and Complaints, subsection 6.2, must promptly report any instance of prohibited conduct, as defined in Section III, Sections 15.0 and 16.0 to the Equity and Title IX Office or the Deputy Title IX coordinator for JPL, as appropriate.

If a member of the Caltech community would like support and guidance in filing a complaint, they may contact one of the Equal Opportunity coordinators, the assistant vice president for equity and equity investigations in the Equity and Title IX Office, JPL's manager of employee relations, or the JPL section manager of talent management or Human Resources Business Partners at JPL.

4.0 Anonymous Reporting

Caltech provides the following resources for anonymous reporting:

If the reporting party wants to remain anonymous, they should not share any personally identifying information. If the reporting party does share such information, the Equity and Title IX Office will contact the reporting party with information about support resources and reporting options; if an investigation is pursued, the reporting party who identified themselves will be notified.

5.0 Contacting Outside Agencies

In addition, employees who believe they have been unlawfully harassed on the basis of a protected characteristic have the right to file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the California Civil Rights Department, which have the authority to remedy violations. Employees, students, and others participating in Caltech's educational programs and activities may file complaints with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (415) 486-5555, [email protected] or (800) 421- 3481 or [email protected]. Complaints may also be directed to the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education at

6.0 Investigation of Complaints

Caltech will conduct a fair, timely, and thorough investigation into or review of complaints as appropriate within the scope of this policy to determine what occurred and take reasonable steps to remedy the effects of any harassment or abusive conduct and prevent recurrence of the behavior. Complaints of harassment will be investigated under the Procedures for Complaints of Unlawful Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation. Caltech provides all parties with appropriate due process and reaches conclusions based on the evidence collected. Caltech takes appropriate action, including disciplinary measures up to and including termination of employment, student expulsion, or being permanently excluded from Caltech-controlled premises, when warranted.

7.0 Prohibition Against Retaliation

No one may intimidate, threaten, coerce, or discriminate against any individual for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by this policy or the related procedures, or because the individual has made a report or complaint, testified, assisted, participated, or refused to participate in any manner in any action or process under this policy or the related procedures. Intimidation, threats, coercion, or discrimination, for the purpose of interfering with any right under this policy or the related procedures constitutes retaliation. The rights and privileges secured under this policy and the related procedures include but are not limited to: (i) filing or assisting in the filing of a complaint or report of a suspected violation of this policy; (ii) opposing any act or practice made unlawful by any federal, state, or local laws requiring equal opportunity; (iii) participating, assisting, or otherwise cooperating in an investigation, compliance review, hearing, or any other activity related to a violation of this policy or administration of any federal, state, or local law requiring equal opportunity; and/or (iv) exercising any legal right protected by federal, state or local law requiring equal opportunity. Complaints of retaliation will be addressed under the Procedures for Complaints of Unlawful Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation.

The following actions do not constitute retaliation: the exercise of rights protected under applicable law or Caltech's charging an individual with a policy violation for making a materially false statement in bad faith in the course of a resolution process. A determination that a respondent was or was not responsible for alleged misconduct alone is not sufficient to conclude that any party made a materially false statement in bad faith.

8.0 Privacy

A member of the Caltech community who wishes to report unlawful discrimination, harassment, abusive conduct, or retaliation should do so as soon as possible, although reports (hereinafter "complaints") may be made at any time. Complaints can be made orally or in writing. Complaints should be brought to the attention of one of the individuals designated in this policy.

Privacy generally means that information related to a report of harassment or abusive conduct will only be shared with those individuals who have a "need to know." The determination of who has a "need to know" is within the discretion of Caltech. These individuals are required to be discreet and respect the privacy of all individuals involved.

No meetings or conversations that take place under this policy or the Procedures for Complaints of Unlawful Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation may be audio-visually recorded by anyone.

9.0 Confidential Resources

Caltech offers members of the Caltech community the choice of seeking confidential counseling outside of Caltech's procedural mechanisms for resolving harassment and abusive conduct complaints. These confidential counseling services are intended for the personal benefit of the individual and offer a setting where various courses of action can be explored. Members of the Caltech community may access the offices below for confidential support. Counselors and designated confidential advocates in these offices will listen and help identify options and next steps. Talking to any of these staff members does not constitute reporting an incident to Caltech.

Confidentiality generally means that information shared by an individual with designated campus or community professionals cannot be revealed to any other individual without the express permission of the individual. These professionals are listed below. They are prohibited from breaking confidentiality unless there is an imminent threat of harm to self or others or as otherwise required or permitted by law. When a report involves suspected abuse of a minor under the age of 18, these confidential resources may be required by state law to notify child protective services and/or local law enforcement.

An individual who has experienced unlawful harassment and who first requests confidentiality may later decide to file a complaint with Caltech. The mental health professionals and other confidential resources listed below will provide the individual with assistance in filing a complaint if the individual wishes to do so.

Mental health professionals in the Student Wellness, Counseling Services, and the Staff and Faculty Consultation Center provide mental health counseling services to the campus community. The JPL Employee Assistance Program provides mental health counseling services to the JPL community. They will not report any information about an incident to Caltech, including the Title IX coordinator, unless requested by their client. They can be contacted 24 hours a day/7 days a week at:

  • For students:
    Student Wellness, Counseling Services: (626) 395-8331
    An after-hours counselor may be reached by calling Counseling Services' main number and pressing ‘2': (626) 395-8331
  • For faculty, campus staff and postdoctoral scholars:
    Staff & Faculty Consultation Center: (626) 395-8360
    After hours via Security: (626) 395-5000
  • For JPL employees:
    Empathia (identify yourself as a JPL employee) (Password: JPL): (800) 367-7474

Other Confidential resources are:

  • Campus Hotline: (626) 395-8787 or (888) 395-8787
  • JPL Ethics Hotline: (818) 354-9999
  • JPL Ombuds: (626) 437-1990

10.0 Equal Opportunity Coordinators and Title IX Coordinator

Caltech has designated Equal Opportunity coordinators (EO coordinators) who are responsible for assisting with and coordinating the education and compliance efforts relating to equal opportunity and nondiscrimination laws and Caltech policies. The following individuals have been designated as EO coordinators: the provost is the coordinator for faculty; the assistant vice president for human resources is the coordinator for campus staff, postdoctoral scholars, and volunteers; the associate deans of students are the coordinators for undergraduate students and interns; the dean of graduate studies is the coordinator for graduate students and interns; and the director for human resources at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the coordinator for employees, interns and volunteers assigned there.

The assistant vice president for equity and equity investigations, who manages the Equity and Title IX Office, also has been designated as Caltech's Title IX coordinator. The contact number is (626) 395-3132, email: [email protected], or visit the office in Room 205, Center for Student Services.

11.0 Informational Resources

Information on unlawful harassment, as well as copies of Caltech's Nondiscrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity, Unlawful Harassment, Sex- and Gender-Based Misconduct, and Violence Prevention policies, are available from Caltech's Title IX coordinator and deputy coordinators; Human Resources, Student Affairs and Deans offices; the Caltech Center for Inclusion & Diversity; resident associates; the Staff and Faculty Consultation Center; and Employee & Organizational Development at Campus; and Employee Relations and the Human Resources Business Partners at JPL. The policies are published in the Caltech Catalog and on the following Caltech websites: Caltech Human Resources, JPL Human Resources, Equity and Title IX Office, and Student Affairs.

last updated August 2023