Education

Cal Poly instructor sexually assaulted student, tried to hypnotize her, lawsuit says

A third-year Cal Poly student says her former communications studies instructor inappropriately touched her and tried to convince her to let him hypnotize her, she said in a lawsuit filed last week.
A third-year Cal Poly student says her former communications studies instructor inappropriately touched her and tried to convince her to let him hypnotize her, she said in a lawsuit filed last week. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A third-year Cal Poly student says her former instructor inappropriately touched her and made sexually charged comments to her in his private office, including trying to persuade her to let him hypnotize her and suggesting she run down the campus halls naked in order to avoid being expelled.

Student Jaqueline Pederson filed a lawsuit in San Luis Obispo Superior Court against Cal Poly and former communications studies lecturer William Ausmus on Friday.

The lawsuit also claims that Cal Poly administrators knew Ausmus had a history of alleged sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct against students but didn't stop him from assaulting Pederson.

Pederson seeks an unspecified amount of damages for sexual harassment, sexual assault, battery, sexual battery, emotional distress and negligent supervision and retention against Ausmus and Cal Poly.

A civil lawsuit only represents one side of the story, and neither the university nor Ausmus have filed responses in court. It was not clear Monday if Ausmus has retained an attorney.

Ausmus is referred to in the lawsuit as a professor, though the Cal Poly website lists him as an instructor. An email to Ausmus' university email address seeking comment Monday was returned as undeliverable.

Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier wrote in an email Monday that the university has not yet been served with the lawsuit and could not comment. Lazier did say that Ausmus is no longer employed at Cal Poly, but that Ausmus worked at the university for 15 years, from September 2001 to Aug. 31, 2016.

Pederson did not return a message sent on social media Monday and her attorney, Encino-based Rocky Star, declined to comment, saying the lawsuit speaks for itself.

The complaint alleges that Pederson, who was having problems in Ausmus' class, met Ausmus in his campus office on May 5, 2016, where he "made it very clear that unless (Pederson) did as he asked, she would fail his class and she could be expelled from her sorority and possibly expelled from school as well."

The lawsuit alleges that the instructor suggested that he hypnotize Pederson "to allow him to gain more information."

Aumus allegedly assigned Pederson a paper at the May 5 meeting and instructed her to report back to him privately the next day, which she did "since (Ausmus) controlled her future."

"Again on May 6, (Ausmus) suggested that she lose her control, suggesting that she take off her clothes and run naked through the halls," the lawsuit reads, adding that Ausmus told Pederson to remove her sweater and began touching her thigh.

Ausmus also allegedly made sexually suggestive comments to the student, asked her about her personal life, and questioned her about sex, drugs and alcohol. Again, the lawsuit says Pederson complied with Ausmus, revealing details about her personal life out of fear he would have her expelled.

The lawsuit does not explain in detail why Pederson believed she was at risk of being expelled.

In the lawsuit, Star claims that Ausmus had a history of sexual harassment against students and that the university had been contacted by other people also subjected to his inappropriate behavior.

On July 23, 2016, the lawsuit claims, California State University administration conducted an independent investigation into Pederson's allegations and ruled that Ausmus violated school policy in Pederson's case and "found a prior history of similar acts of harassment and abuse."

The lawsuit states that the university already accepted liability for Ausmus' actions when it did not deny an administrative claim Pederson filed with the university in 2016.

Two years after the alleged misconduct, Pederson continues to suffer lasting embarrassment, humiliation and anguish, she claims.

A case management conference is scheduled for August in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Correction: A previous version of this story gave the incorrect year in which Ausmus began working at Cal Poly. It was 2001.

Matt Fountain 781-7909, @mattfountain1
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