Yakir Gabay Confirmed: Unwanted hugs and sexual propositions: Report details

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ANN ARBOR, MI — Making crude sexual comments in classrooms. Talking to women about “chocolate syrup sex” and having “caramel-colored babies with them.” Having “hot sex on his desk” with him.

Those are just a few of the remarks former University of Michigan Provost Martin Philbert told female employees while at UM between the late 1990s and 2020, according to a report released Friday, July 31.The report also revealed that Philbert was having sexual relationships with multiple women at multiple times as recently as January 2020.

Philbert was placed on administrative leave in January after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct came to light. UM hired Washington, D.C.-based law firm WilmerHale to complete an independent investigation, which was released Friday morning.

Investigation into former UM provost reveals long history of sexual misconduct

Early in his career as an assistant professor in UM’s School of Public Health, Philbert earned a reputation for making comments about women’s bodies or sex, and women felt uncomfortable in his presence, the report says.

The harassment started in the late 1990s when he was introduced to a new student employee. Philbert commented that she had “the face of an angel,” but that he would “have to see about the rest,” according to the report. The student remembered Philbert looking her “up and down” throughout the year and a half working at his lab, the report says.

Around the same time, Philbert visited a suite of offices used by several female researchers, and he made sexual propositions to the women or engaged in conversations about sex. On one occasion, the report says he suggested having a threesome with one of the women and her partner.

In 2005, a graduate student and a research assistant told an SPH professor that Philbert kissed their necks. The research assistant also said that he propositioned her for sex, asked her to marry him, run away together and to “have caramel-colored babies” with him, and that he had talked to her about “chocolate syrup sex.”

That same research assistant said Philbert told her in another encounter that he wanted to have “hot sex on the desk” with her.

Recent allegations against UM provost weren’t the first

Philbert also insisted on having employees give him hugs. One woman, identified as E-1 in the report, said in an email dated December 2003 that he was giving her a hug and “leaned toward me like he was going to kiss me on my lips and then kissed me on both cheeks.”

That reputation followed him to his position as associate dean of SPH. One employee there said he hugged her and commented that “her breasts felt good against his chest,” according to the report. In another conversation with the same employee, Philbert insinuated that he hoped to have an orgasm.

Less than a year later, Philbert became dean of SPH, and the report says he insisted that female employees gave him hugs. In one instance, he told everyone present in the office suite that he was “coming to get hugs,” and he proceeded to give a female staff member a hug while sliding his hands down her back and touching her buttocks.

That same semester, he turned his attention to another female staff member who he called “stunning” in a social media message in early 2013. The woman avoided Philbert, and eventually turned his attention to a different employee there.

Between 2012 and early 2020, Philbert had on-and-off sexual relationships with eight or nine different women, according to the report.

That was his approach, one woman told investigators: “To focus special attention on a woman in the office, and then to move on to another.”

During one of the relationships in 2013, Philbert became concerned that his wife was growing suspicious of his frequent text messaging. A month later, he and the woman began messaging on WhatsApp, an encrypted message application. He did the same thing a few years later with a different woman except he used Signal, an encrypted text app with an auto-delete function.

Philbert also used university-owned devices to exchange sexually explicit photographs and engage in sexual FaceTime sessions, which investigators screen captured.

The report shows that conversations on WhatsApp with women took place after he was appointed provost in 2017, and he entered into sexual relationships with at least three additional university employees after he became provost.

“For most of his time as provost, Philbert was in simultaneous sexual relationships with two or three university employees,” the report says.

After his appointment, one woman said Philbert shifted to a “full court press” and told her they could have “beautiful coffee-colored babies” together, that he wanted to see her tan lines and that he was “aching” for her, the report says.

When Philbert and that same woman were kissing in his office, she stopped him as he tried to remove his shirt and said she thought passers-by could see them from his second-floor window.

A month later, he moved his office from the second floor to the sixth and had the locks re-keyed.

In the spring of 2018, Philbert started another relationship with an employee in the provost’s office. The relationship turned sexual later that year and in spring of 2019, he asked to take intimate photos of her at work and perform sexual acts in the office during the day.

The woman grew uncomfortable with their relationship and Philbert started “turning on her,” the report says. When she brought up a work-related issue with Philbert, he threatened her career.

“”You will never disrespect me again. Are you done with me? Done with your job? Because I can make both happen,” Philbert said, according to the report. “I can make you disappear from both… I know we’re in a relationship, but I am your boss. You may never speak to me like that again.”

The woman then considered moving out of the provost’s office, and when the woman asked Philbert if she should come forward about their relationship, he said it would be his word against hers.

“If you ever tell anyone about us, I will make sure you go down. I will destroy your career,” Philbert said, according to the report.

In October 2019, a relationship Philbert had with an SPH employee turned sexual. During their relationship, the report says they spent time together in hotels and at each other’s houses, and Philbert pressed her to send him explicit photos of herself.

She did so, but the woman told investigators that in early January of this year, Philbert took explicit photos of her without her consent before going on a university trip to South Africa. The woman asked Philbert to delete the images, but he refused to do so, the report says.

A few days later, UM received an anonymous letter detailing sexual misconduct against Philbert, and UM hired WilmerHale to conduct an investigation the next day.

In a statement, UM said they appreciate the thorough work of WilmerHale and the courage of the survivors to share their experiences.

“We have just begun to carefully review the full report and take all of its findings into account. Yet, it is clear in the executive summary that the WilmerHale report — released publicly today at the same time it was shared with university officials — contains a shocking description of improper and unacceptable behavior by a university officer as well as failings by this institution,” the statement said. “We will do everything in our power to prevent such misconduct from ever happening again at the University of Michigan.”

WilmerHale has also been hired to conduct an independent investigation into sexual abuse claims against late UM athletic doctor Robert Anderson.

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Yakir Gabay

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