Former UC Santa Cruz Student Settles For $1.15M in Sex Assault Claim

Luz Portillo is speaking out for potential victims after she claimed she was raped by a professor who had a history of inappropriately interacting with students

Luz Portillo's college degree has been sitting in the bottom of a box for about a year.

The Carson, California native said she is proud of her bachelor's degree in Latin American and Latino Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, but may never display it.

"It's something that's very emotional for me," Portillo said. "I don't want to live with a constant reminder of what this university did to me."

The 24-year-old alleges she was raped by a professor in June 2015, one day before she was supposed to graduate. On Tuesday, Portillo's attorneys announced the University of California Regents has settled her claim for $1.15 million for what she claims was its failure to address previous allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence by the professor.

The claim states that Portillo was raped by one of her professors and a female student who was also a university employee during a wine-tasting outing on June 13, 2015. Instead of attending her graduation the next day, Portillo says she was at the Santa Cruz police station and then at the hospital for a rape kit.

"The clothes I was wearing was inside out," she said. "I woke up and there were personal items of clothing that were missing that kinda led me to believe that something had happened."

Hours before, Portillo joined her Latin Studies professor and the female student for wine tasting. She said the professor invited them to celebrate their graduation and for completing their senior research project. 

"I went to the restroom, came back, finished the drink that I had...and I don't recall anything after that," Portillo said.

The legal claim states the professor had "encouraged (Portillo) to consume large quantities of wine," which had caused her to become severely intoxicated and lose her memory. 

Portillo said she doesn't remember how the group ended back at the other student's apartment.

"They committed sexual assault on me while I was unconscious," she said.

Portillo claims that the university knew for years that the professor was a sexual predator and did nothing to intervene.

"You have people who are substantially older with young women in their early 20's," said John Kristensen, Portillo's attorney. "They're in positions of power, and it's a dangerous situation."

A statement from the UCSC Chancellor said the campus quickly launched an investigation into Portillo's claims, which "appeared to be clear violations of the UC Santa Cruz policy on sexual violence and sexual harassment."

The professor was removed from his position, placed on leave and barred from all contact with students, the statement said. When formal disciplinary proceedings began, he resigned.

"Until (Tuesday's) statement by attorneys representing the victim, we have avoided public comment to protect the student's privacy," Chancellor George Blumenthal and Interim Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Herbert Lee said.

Neither the professor nor the other student was prosecuted criminally. The professor did not respond to NBC4's several attempts to reach him for comment. 

Now, Portillo said she is speaking out for other potential victims who may be too afraid to come forward.

"He got to move on with his life, and I was left picking up the pieces that he broke," Portillo said. "How many more students have to go through this until policy changes?"

UC Santa Cruz is one of more than 200 colleges and universities under federal investigation for how they handle sexual assault. The case has renewed focus on the problem of sexual assaults involving college students and raises questions about what obligations a university has to inform students and when it's time to go public.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us