Randy Handel, a high-profile University of Minnesota athletics official and fundraiser who violated the school’s sexual harassment policy, will be suspended without pay for two weeks, demoted and face other consequences, the university said Thursday.
The university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) said Handel repeatedly hugged, touched and made inappropriate comments to a female employee without her consent.
The university released a heavily redacted seven-page report that goes into detail about the allegations, Handel’s response and the office’s findings and analysis.
In a letter addressed to Handel dated May 3, the EOAA said that during one-on-one meetings with the woman behind closed or partly closed doors, Handel “regularly hugged or ‘asked for a hug’ … even when the context of the conversation you were having did not warrant a hug.”
It also said Handel “sighed and moaned while hugging,” breathed on the woman’s neck, touched her face, neck or upper chest and touched her lower back, ostensibly to remove some fuzz from her sweater.
It also said Handel made comments about the woman’s “smile and energy in the office … commented on [her] beauty and then said, ‘if only I were a few years younger.’ ”
The report said Handel’s inappropriate behavior ceased after mid-November 2016.
According to the report, the woman said she told Handel “early on … but after you had hugged [her] a few times” that she was not comfortable with the touching.
Handel “acknowledged hugging … on a few occasions in congratulatory contexts” but “denied hugging ‘regularly’ or more than a few times,” the report said. He “adamantly denied touching [the woman’s] face, lower neck, or upper chest or even reaching over as if to touch.”
“You indicated that such touching was ‘clearly out of bounds’ and did not understand why [the woman] would allege it,” the letter said. It also said Handel made comments about the woman’s “smile and energy in the office … commented on [her] beauty and then said, ‘if only I were a few years younger.’ ”
Four witnesses told the EOAA that Handel hugged the woman “more than you hugged other people” and that he sometimes “lingered” by her cubicle. Some witnesses said the woman told them that Handel’s attentions made her uncomfortable.
“For the most part, witnesses had positive things to say about their interactions with you, your treatment of them and the support you showed them,” the report said. Some witnesses described Handel as “emotional,” “affectionate” and “sensitive,” the report said.
But, it said, investigators considered the woman’s allegations more credible than Handel’s denials because of witnesses’ accounts and because the woman had told others about her discomfort.
Athletic director Mark Coyle wrote to Handel on Thursday, telling him that he would be suspended, that he must participate in additional sexual harassment training and that he must participate in “coaching regarding appropriate boundaries when interacting with co-workers and how to respond to concerns raised about conduct by non-university persons.”
Coyle told Handel that all of his supervisory duties would be removed and his job and salary would be revised “to reflect the change in your duties.
In addition, Handel’s office will be moved from TCF Bank Stadium to the Bierman Field Athletics Building. Handel also should “refrain from any further violations of university policy,” Coyle wrote.
Handel, a Wisconsin native, came to Minnesota in June 2010 as a major gift development officer and led fundraising for Siebert Field. He earned $145,000 in 2015, according to U records. He is married and has two children.
He was suspended from the university on May 9. News of the investigation and findings was first reported May 10 by KSTP-TV, which said it got information from an anonymous U regent.
Regents were incensed that the information had been leaked and started an investigation into the source. More than 260 journalists have signed a petition urging the university to halt its investigation, calling it “a direct attack on the First Amendment.”