Lawrence Krauss violated ASU sexual harassment policies, investigation shows

He was ousted from his post at the University last week but remains on paid leave

Following several months of investigation, ASU concluded last week that professor Lawrence Krauss violated the University’s sexual harassment policy by groping a woman’s breast while on an ASU-funded trip in late 2016. 

The incident occurred in at a convention in Australia in November 2016 where Krauss was an invited speaker. 

At a gala dinner during the convention, Krauss allegedly grabbed the breast of a woman after she took a selfie with him, according to a report of the investigation's findings.

The woman, who remains unnamed, did not initially report the incident or agree to be interviewed by investigators or media outlets, the documents state.

The conclusion represents a reversal for the University, which had previously told Melanie Thomson, a microbiologist who witnessed the incident and filed a report with ASU in 2017, that Krauss' alleged actions did not constitute a breach of University policy. 

ASU’s Office of Equity and Inclusion reopened the case in February 2018 after new witnesses were identified, and in March, Krauss was put on paid leave.

Even though Thomson had never met or interacted with Krauss prior to the convention, she said she had been warned of Krauss and his inappropriate behavior from colleagues. The woman involved in the incident was a friend of Thomson, she said. 

Thomson shared the University's final report along with a letter from ASU's executive vice president and provost, Mark Searle, with The State Press.



The allegations

Included with Thomson’s initial complaint was the selfie of Krauss and the woman, whose face was redacted in the photo.

According to the report, the image shows Krauss with one arm around the woman and his right hand — the one he reportedly grabbed the woman's breast with — mid-air.

During the investigation, Krauss told officials he likely had his hand raised to help steady the woman due to a loss of balance while the photo was taken, the report states. Additionally, he added that he may have raised his hand to block the camera's anticipated flash. 

ASU's final report states that due to the corroboration of consistent stories from five interviewees — one being the woman involved — Krauss did grab the woman's breast and his explanation for his raised arm did not outweigh the other evidence. 

Additionally, because ASU had funded a trip where Krauss was acting as a representative of the University, the final report states his actions created an inappropriate setting and violated ASU's Code of Ethics.

"The evidence supports the conclusion that Respondent’s conduct created an offensive environment for academic pursuits by the unnamed female attendee as well as other conference attendees," the documents state.

Krauss took to to Twitter to post a nine-page denial when the allegations first publicly surfaced in a February Buzzfeed investigation. 


Moving forward

In the letter to Thomson, dated July 31, 2018, Searle wrote, “Responsive administrative action is being taken to prevent any further recurrence of similar conduct.” 

The investigation’s conclusion came days before the announcement that Krauss had been replaced as director of ASU’s The Origins Project, an initiative he once spearheaded. He announced that he would not be continuing his directorship in a Tweet on August 2, and pointed to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the director of the University's School of Earth and Space Exploration, as his replacement. 

Read more: Lawrence Krauss replaced as director of The Origins Project

Krauss remains on paid leave by ASU. 

According to the report, the woman told investigators that she did not feel victimized following the incident. She added that she felt it was a "clumsy interpersonal interaction" that did not merit Krauss losing his career.

“It is the policy of the university not to comment on ongoing personnel matters,” an ASU spokesperson said in an emailed statement. 

Krauss was not immediately available for comment.


Reach the reporter at Kimberly.Rapanut@asu and follow @kimrapanut on Twitter.

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