U. Iowa settled twice with assaulted researcher
IOWA CITY – The University of Iowa initially promised years of employment and benefits to a researcher who was assaulted by her supervising professor but ultimately paid her $42,000 to resign last year, according to two settlement agreements released Thursday.
The agreements, released under the public records law to The Associated Press, shed light for the first time on how the university treated the victim in a high-profile workplace assault case.
The woman told university police in 2008 that she had been kicked, hit and sexually assaulted on several occasions by assistant pathology professor Toshiki Itoh, who was her supervisor in a College of Medicine laboratory. She later testified in court that the assaults occurred in the laboratory and office and continued for a year because, like Itoh, she was from Japan and worried she’d be fired if she complained. Her U.S. visa required her to have a job.
The university removed Itoh from the workplace immediately and placed him on paid leave, which continued for more than two years even after he was charged with sexual abuse and assault. A jury found him guilty of two counts of assault causing bodily injury, a serious misdemeanor, but deadlocked on whether he was guilty of third-degree sexual abuse in 2010. At trial, he claimed he acted in self-defense after she attacked him.
Itoh resigned in January 2011 after collecting more than $200,000 while on leave. To avoid retrial, he entered an Alford plea to the third-degree sexual abuse charge in which he didn’t acknowledge guilt but that prosecutors had enough evidence for a conviction. He received a suspended sentence, probation and jail time.
Itoh’s lengthy paid leave outraged Iowa lawmakers, who responded by approving a law that requires public employees to repay salaries if they are later convicted of criminal offenses for which they are placed on leave. But the details of the university’s treatment of his former assistant – whose name is being withheld under The Associated Press policy of generally not identifying sexual assault victims – had not been known until the release of the two settlement agreements.
The first, reached in August 2011, promised that her appointment as a post-doctoral scholar would continue through June 30, 2013, at her current salary level of $38,976. At that point, she would be given a two-year appointment as a part-time research assistant through 2015.
In exchange, the woman agreed to withdraw a personal injury claim she filed in 2010 with the State Appeal Board seeking compensation for her injuries. The claim, released by the Iowa attorney general’s office on Thursday, said Itoh’s assaults injured her and hurt her career and alleged “the university and the state are responsible for his actions.” Such claims are often required before filing lawsuits against state agencies.
The 44-year-old woman’s continued employment was conditioned on a “satisfactory work performance, appropriate collaboration and full compliance” with laws and work rules, the document states.
In a subsequent agreement in May 2013, she agreed to resign immediately in exchange for a $42,000 payment. The university also promised to pay her medical and dental insurance through June 30, 2015. The woman reiterated that she would not sue for any matter “involving any continuing effects of actions or practices” related to her employment.
The woman had no immediate comment Thursday when reached by phone. Her attorney, Julia Mears, said she doesn’t speak to the media.
University spokesman Joseph Brennan said the second agreement was “satisfactory to her and the university to conclude her service.” He said he couldn’t go into more specifics because they were considered confidential personnel matters under Iowa law.