Trisha Vasquez / Courier Dr. Jennifer Koontz, psychology professor poses for the camera at PCC on Thursday, March 28, 2019.
SHARE: FacebooktwitterFacebooktwitter

Dr. Koontz has requested that we do not include the name of her FA representative.

A psychology professor at PCC has accused the Vice President of Human Resources of gender-based harassment that amounts to discrimination under Title IX, according to a letter delivered to the board of trustees.

The letter, written by Dr. Jennifer Koontz, was delivered to the trustees on April 25. In the letter, Koontz alleged that the Title IX coordinator and Vice President of Human Resources Robert Blizinski harassed her on the basis of her sex on Feb. 28, 2019. Blizinski declined to comment on the allegations.

According to Koontz, on the day of the incident, she had scheduled an appointment with Psychology Dean Jeffrey Archibald for a “Level 1 grievance meeting” regarding PCC’s decision to deny her tenure after four years of teaching at the institution.

Approximately 30 minutes prior to the meeting, Koontz received an email from Blizinski’s executive assistant, Leanne Flashberg. The email stated that Blizinski wanted to meet with Koontz, “preferably today or tomorrow.” The email was marked as a “High” importance correspondence.

Due to the previously scheduled meeting, Koontz — accompanied by her female Faculty Association (FA) representative, who preferred not to be named — did not have time to reply to the email as she and her FA representative were already en route to room C-321 where the meeting was to take place.

But upon arrival at Archibald’s office, Blizinski was waiting for Koontz and her FA representative. He allegedly stated that he was “hijacking” their scheduled meeting with Archibald.

Photograph from Robert Blizinski’s Facebook.

Koontz had never met Blizinski before this encounter. Blizinski introduced himself and shook her hand “aggressively.”

As Koontz sat down, Blizinski pulled a chair over and sat directly in front of Koontz, “approximately two to three feet in front of [her] face.” Koontz was uncomfortable with the encounter.

“[He] aggressively leaned towards me while he continued to call me ‘Miss’ Koontz,” wrote Koontz. “My FA representative asked him to call me Dr. Koontz twice.”

Upon the second request from the FA representative to address Koontz with her proper title, Blizinski allegedly said, “For this meeting, it’s Miss Koontz.”

“It felt like he was degrading me in front of my direct supervisor who was about to make a decision on my grievance,” wrote Koontz.

“We do not appreciate the tone of the meeting and the disrespect shown to Dr. Koontz,” said the FA representative in an email to Blizinski — a copy of which was sent to PCC Superintendent/President Erika Endrijonas. “She has worked very hard and earned her title.”

According to Koontz, Blizinski went on to threaten that Koontz’s reputation would be ruined if she didn’t voluntarily resign. Koontz stated that he told her that her grievance didn’t matter, adding that it “was a done deal.” Blizinski also allegedly stated, “This is happening,” in regard to her denial of tenure.

“Although I had the right to go before the board of trustees … to openly hear my case and honestly consider it,” stated Koontz, “Vice President Blizinski was telling me that this was a foregone conclusion.”

Koontz argued that this was against her due process rights and suspected that Blizinski had “tainted … the trustees in their decision regarding [her] tenure.”

Koontz stated that Blizinski stared at her directly the entire meeting, even when people other than Koontz were speaking.

Combined with his diction and posture, Koontz believes that this was an attempt to “bully and intimidate [her] into resigning,” which Koontz had no intention of doing.

Koontz went on to state that Blizinski demanded she attend a meeting the following week “for the purpose of tendering [her] resignation.” Koontz refused to attend the meeting, stating her intention to fight the decision if her tenure was denied by the board of trustees.

Joey Krebs / Courier Pasadena City College’s Vice President of Human Resources Robert Blizinski speaks at the Academic Senate meeting on Monday, March 25, 2019 in the Circadian Room.

As the Title IX coordinator, Blizinski is responsible for receiving grievances related to gender-based discrimination.

Given his position as Title IX coordinator, Koontz believes that Blizinski “was aware of the postures and threats that he made to [her].”

“His disrespect for my hard-earned title of doctor was intentional and sexist,” wrote Koontz. “In fact, it is likely that he has taught workshops on how to avoid these very behaviors, so as not to appear to be discriminatory or harassing.”

In her letter, Koontz asserts that her FA representative was treated in a similarly disrespectful manner during the meeting. Blizinski purportedly told the FA representative to “smile” and categorically dismissed her remarks.

At the conclusion of the interaction, Koontz stated that Blizinski told her she could now go back to “[their] ‘little’ grievance meeting.”

“It appeared that his purpose of bullying and intimidating me to try to resign,” wrote Koontz, “was an intentional and sexist degradation of me and my colleague in front of my supervisor to bias his perspective further and disrupt my due process rights.”

Flashberg informed Koontz that she was expected to be at the meeting Blizinski pushed Koontz to attend. Koontz declined to meet, while her FA representative communicated with Blizinski and requested that Koontz’s personnel file be made available for pickup without a meeting.

Koontz believes that these actions were unprofessional, sexist and intentional.

“It is difficult for an experienced professional such as Vice President Blizinski to claim that he did not realize what he was doing or how I would feel in response to his actions,” wrote Koontz. “Hopefully the board will require Vice President Blizinski to receive sexual harassment training, just like any other employee.”

Koontz concluded her letter stating that willful neglect towards Blizinski’s actions will “embolden [him] to bully others … and the district will be held accountable.”

According to Koontz, Blizinski did not respond to the concerns she and her FA representative raised with him, nor did he issue an apology to either individual.

There are specific procedures that the United States Department of Education requires schools to follow when they are made aware of allegations of this nature.

“When a school knows or reasonably should know of possible sex-based harassment, it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred,” according to the Department of Education. “If an investigation reveals that the harassment created a hostile environment, the school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy the effects.”

PCC’s Executive Director of Strategic Communications & Marketing Alex Boekelheide reached out to the Courier with a statement regarding the matter.

“Upon receipt of the letter to the board, Dr. Endrijonas immediately began an independent investigation of the statements contained within,” wrote Boekelheide. “The college takes these accusations very seriously and will investigate all allegations of sexism, harassment, and other forms of discrimination.”

Boekelheide and PCC declined to comment further citing the active investigation.

While Blizinski had been notified of the allegations and investigation prior to contact from the Courier, Koontz was not made aware of the investigation by PCC.

It is not known who informed Blizinski of the letter and subsequent investigation.

Koontz has not yet received a response from any trustees regarding her letter, nor has she been contacted by any investigative personnel.

Boekelheide stated that he was unaware that Koontz had not been contacted, but that he did not know what the standard procedure for investigations of this nature entailed.

According to Boekelheide, an outside counsel was contacted on Friday, April 26 to handle the investigation.

“We will communicate the results of the investigation to everyone involved when they become available,” stated Boekelheide.

Comments

  1. How do you feel PCC is handling the situation? Is there more that can be done? Do these accusations change the way you feel about PCC as a whole? Do you think this is a widespread problem at PCC?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.