An assistant director at Arizona State University was fired in July, amid multiple university investigations that found he violated policies regarding racially-insensitive conduct and sexual harassment, according to documents obtained exclusively by 12 News.
Carlos Benjamin served as an assistant director of training for the university's Ed Plus Success Coaching Center at the school's Skysong campus in Scottsdale.
Two separate investigations, which concluded after Benjamin was fired, found that he violated the university's policy prohibiting “discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.”
In one investigation, completed in August, the university found that Benjamin altered a school photo of a new African-American employee in a manner "similar to depictions of 'blackface' and people of African descent in minstrel shows in U.S. history."
“Absolutely it’s a big deal. We’re talking about de-humanization,” said Roy Tatem, President of the East Valley NAACP.
“I was definitely appalled…There’s no way that an adult male, or an adult female, should act in this manner at this day and time,” he said.
According to the report, Benjamin emailed the photo to the new employee and their supervisor with a "photo-shopped mouth" that included "bright lipstick-red lips, pearl white teeth, and an oversized smile." The report called Benjamin's actions "racially insensitive", "unprofessional," and "offensive."
“When we see an employee mock his fellow co-workers with Sambo-like representation, where they’re darkening the skin and bright red lips, that’s a de-humanization or creating a savage-like image of African-Americans,” Tatem said.
“…Those that decide to abuse, bully, and pretty much taunt those who are different, need to be dealt with the swiftest and harshest of consequences,” he added.
In the other investigation, completed in September, the university found it was "more likely than not" that Benjamin engaged in harassing conduct of a sexual nature.
The complainant told the school that Benjamin "talked about strip clubs," "mentioned an adult film star," and "mentioned he purchased lingerie for his wife" in a series of interactions. On other occasions, Benjamin allegedly told the woman she "smelled good", that he would "stalk her back to her chair", and once said "I thought I was going to hit your nipples" as he opened a cafe door.
The document also indicates that Benjamin spoke inappropriately to at least four additional employees, using "verbiage to describe female body parts", discussing "his intimate life with his wife," and complimenting women "in a manner that was not appropriate."
“I was really horrified to read about the behaviors…just extremely unacceptable and inappropriate,” said Dr. Tasha Menaker of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.
“What he did is important for us to talk about and take seriously. Sexual harassment can be an extremely traumatic event for the person on the receiving end of it,” she said.
Benjamin largely denied the allegations, according to the reports. He told investigators the photo of alleged blackface was "a joke."
"The decision was made to terminate the employee, separate from the outcome of any ASU Office of Equity and Inclusion investigation," said ASU spokesman Jerry Gonzalez in a statement.
The complaints were "promptly and thoroughly investigated" and were "appropriately addressed,” Gonzalez said via email.
Both investigations were signed by Mark Searle, the University's Executive Vice President and University Provost. The university determined Benjamin is not eligible to be re-hired.
12 News reached out to a series of women believed to be victims of Benjamin, but all of them either declined comment, or didn't respond to our requests. Multiple women indicated that the university asked them not to speak publicly about the matter.
An anonymous source sent 12 News a copy of an email sent by Senior Director of Student Success Nancy Cervasio, in which she instructs staffers to report to their managers if they are contacted by the media. The email was sent soon after inquiries from 12 News.
"If you should happened (sic) to be contacted by any media...please report that to your manager...The appropriate response should be 'no comment'," Cervasio wrote.
Menaker says employers should allow employees to speak publicly about their experiences if they choose to do so.
“It’s important for us, as a society, to allow victims of sexual violence and harassment to make their own decisions about whether they want to talk about it or not. For some survivors, that can be an extremely cathartic and healing experience,” she said.
In response to the email, ASU said in a statement that their “policy does not expressly forbid its employees from speaking to the press or anyone. Rather, they are encouraged to direct the press to the appropriate ASU media professionals to ensure that the press receives the most accurate information.”
Benjamin is the second high-profile ASU employee to come under scrutiny this year amid allegations of sexual harassment. Lawrence Krauss, a world-renowned theoretical physicist, announced his retirement in October after the university placed him on leave - and launched an investigation - following a Buzzfeed report detailing allegations of sexual harassment.
12 News reached out to Benjamin through phone, email, and social media, but he did not respond to our requests for comment. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he worked for the school for more than four years from April 2014-July 2018, spending his first two years as a "UTO Training Specialist.”