Content Warning: Sexual harassment
Editor’s Note: Article author Ethan Edward Coston has been employed with the UC San Diego Bookstore since 2016.
A student employee filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD) in May 2017. The complainant, a student worker at the UC San Diego Bookstore, alleged that Bookstore Operations Manager Alan Labotski sexually harassed her and other student employees in the department.
While the complainant initially did not want to proceed with an investigation, in June, a third party provided enough information for an investigation to proceed and the original complainant agreed to participate. By November of that same year, the investigators made a conclusion: Labotski had sexually harassed student employees and violated Title IX policy. He was referred to his supervisor, Bookstore Director Tom Bonetati, for disciplinary action.
But that disciplinary action never took place.
Title IX, among other things, sets guidelines for investigating instances of sexual misconduct. Additionally, the University of California maintains its own set of policies which govern how campuses investigate sexual violence and harassment.
“It was too long and drawn out,” said Tony, a former Bookstore loss prevention employee who asked not to be identified by last name out of fear of retaliation. “I’m not sure on the time table, but it took maybe six months to a year for them to do anything about it.”
A “Father Figure”
According to the investigation report, Labotski oversaw the Loss Prevention Department at the UCSD Bookstore, where he supervised student workers.
The complainant told OPHD Complaint Resolution Officer Michael Budelsky that Labotski made “unwelcome advances” both in person and through text, which eventually led her to quit her job. The complainant provided screenshots of text messages, which were used in the investigation, along with testimony from 11 witnesses.
They also said that Labotski saw himself as a “father figure” and wanted to build relationships with students, but he took it too far. He ran a leadership program for members of the Loss Prevention Department, which included one-on-one meetings.
A witness told the resolution officer that Labotski “manipulates” employees and “plays favorites.”
Labotski regularly texted employees for work, including after hours, and admitted to texting while drinking. He regularly texted the complainant that he loved her and also complained about her dating another student employee. The report states that there were no rules about student employees dating in the workplace.
In response, Labotski told the resolution officer that he was “not proud of” the texts. A witness also reported receiving “I love you” texts from Labotski. Labotski told the resolution officer that his relationship with the complainant was not romantic and he kept texting her to “repair their relationship.”
The complainant also said that Labotski would give the women in the leadership program “expensive jewelry” and gave everyone else gift cards. Labotski told the resolution officer that this is because he was closer to them. He said he also gave beer to male students who were over 21.
Multiple employees corroborated the gifts, including one witness who also quit working due to Labotski’s behavior. She said that Labotski invited her and the complainant to “dinner and wine” even though they were underage, and also told the complainant and another employee that they should “sleep together.” Another witness said that Labotski commented on a Facebook photo that he was attracted to her.
To initiate an investigation, OPHD (UCSD’s Title IX office) sends prior notice to the respondent and complainant, regarding the matter. Supervisors relevant to the investigation are made aware of the impending investigation as well.
The Triton tried to reach out to Labotski for comment, but of the several phone numbers associated with Labotski’s name, most were disconnected, one was the wrong number, and one rang nonstop with no answer. Reporters from The Triton also reached out to members of the Trauma Intervention Programs of San Diego, where he is currently a crisis volunteer, asking to be put in contact with Labotski, but they did not receive a response.
In October 2018, The Triton also attempted to reach out to former Bookstore Director Tom Bonetati, who was Labotski’s supervisor and responsible for administering disciplinary action, but did not receive responses before the Director resigned in November 2018. Bonetati later returned to UCSD as the Director of Auxiliary Business Services in the Resources, Management, and Planning department, where he now supervises the current Bookstore’s Interim Director.
After a year of email exchanges between The Triton’s reporters and university officials, UCSD Communications Officer Erika Johnson sent The Triton the following email:
“The title IX office, in this case, UC San Diego’s Office of Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, is responsible responding to all media inquiries related to title IX investigations and that office has responded to your request.”
As part of this investigation, The Triton submitted a public records request for emails and texts between Labotski and Bonetati, who was in charge of disciplinary action for Labotski, but the university deleted them in accordance with the UC records retention policy.
In a letter provided as part of a legal settlement with The Triton’s current Managing Editor, UCSD Policy and Records Administration Director Paula Johnson had this to say:
“Policy & Records Administration confirmed that Mr. Labotski’s email messages had been purged from the system when he was no longer employed by the University pursuant to the University’s document retention policy.”
“We’re all a family”
Under Title IX policy requirements, investigators draft an assessment of whether the alleged harasser is allowed to continue working or if they should be placed on leave. OPHD Director Cherie Scricca told The Triton that the recommendation for investigatory leave is based on a rubric of several factors: if a weapon was used, if force or threat of force was used, if predation and drugging was involved, if there are multiple complainants or a pattern of behavior, and if their presence jeopardizes the integrity of the investigation. OPHD also reviews the employee’s interactions with students to determine if there is concern over allowing them to interact with students during the investigation.
The OPHD complaint resolution officer did not place Labotski on leave during the initial assessment.
However, according to Tony, Labotski’s behavior continued to be inappropriate while the case was investigated.
“I was hired under a pretense that ‘We’re all a family, Tony.’ Which was a red flag,” said Tony, who stated he was hired while the investigation was ongoing. “Then, he increasingly attempted to ‘son’ me. I don’t know what the formal term of that sort of behavior is called, but he was doing it. Hand on my shoulder (literally). ‘Coaching.’ Stuff like that. Very subtle.”
Tony also said that several loss prevention employees either quit or threatened to quit during the investigation because they were upset with how it was being handled. The Triton could not find any other former employees to verify this claim.
“After that and learning about the investigation, I distanced myself from him,” Tony told The Triton. “I remember that I declined to go out to lunch with him, the director, and my student superior. He then advised my superior that she should begin looking for my replacement.”
Tony said Labotski went on leave after the investigation and soon thereafter resigned. The Triton asked UC Public Affairs to confirm whether Labotski went on leave and when he resigned, but the University said that it will not comment on specific investigations.
Ethan Edward Coston is the Managing Editor of The Triton. You can follow him @Ethan4Books. Staff Writer Sahana Narayan assisted with the research and writing for this article. You can follow her at @saharadesert00.