Bates president gave unwanted hugs, insulted staff, slammed his shoe in anger, investigation finds

Bates Technical College President Ron Langrell has been on paid administrative leave for more than two weeks, but the college’s board of trustees has stayed silent on why.

Documents recently obtained by The News Tribune through a public-records request show Langrell, 60, was investigated after a female employee complained about his behavior.

Those records show details of a months-long inquiry by investigator Deborah Diamond. Diamond found that some Bates employees:

▪ Are “uncomfortable with Dr. Langrell hugging them and consider it to be inappropriate, unprofessional behavior.”

▪ “Feel uncomfortable with/demeaned by Dr. Langrell’s verbal comments and cursing.”

▪ Believe Langrell “abuses the power/authority of his position to dominate and intimidate others.”

Diamond also wrote in her report to the Bates board of trustees that $2,389.23 Langrell spent on travel to Portland in August and September 2017 for an executive retreat and senior management evaluations “appears to have been for Dr. Langrell’s personal convenience rather than a justifiable use of state funds.”

Langrell’s attorneys deny any charges of sexual harassment and say proper process wasn’t followed after a formal harassment complaint was made, including that Langrell wasn’t notified in writing about the specific allegations before his interview with the investigator. They also say their client didn’t receive copies of the allegations until much later. His legal team has filed a request for reconsideration.

“Dr. Langrell was shocked and disheartened to learn of the recent allegations and the incidents reaching back to 2012 and 2013,” wrote attorney Michael McAleenan in a letter to Bates’ Title IX coordinator Marshall Sampson. “To the extent any complainant suffered due to his uninformed or unknowing actions, he accepts that his conduct must change and only wishes he was adequately advised on it sooner and given the opportunity to learn and adjust his behavior.”

The investigation stemmed from a Nov. 16 complaint filed by a Bates staff member. In the complaint, the woman said she was walking down a hallway during the college’s Thanksgiving luncheon when she ran into Langrell. Upon recognizing her, the president said, “Oh, it’s you. I didn’t know who that beautiful woman was with the great legs.” In an interview with the investigator in December, she said Langrell used the word “sexy” to describe her legs.

Langrell, who is 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 310 pounds, then stepped into her path and wrapped the woman in a bear hug, she said.

Surveillance video from the encounter shows the hug, and the woman appears to hug Langrell back briefly. Both she and Langrell then continue on their way, and the woman opens a door and steps out of sight.

Less than a minute later, she comes back out into the hall and waits for a nearby elevator. She fidgets and looks agitated, putting her hand to her forehead several times.

“I was shocked that, with all the news about sexual harassment, the president of the college thought it was somehow OK to hug me,” she said in an interview with the investigator. “Dr. Langrell did not even ask for permission to hug me. I was so shaky afterwards that it took me several tries to open the Finance Department door.”

Several people interviewed by the investigator, including the woman’s supervisor, said they saw her shortly after the encounter with Langrell and that she was visibly upset as she recounted what had happened. Those people said they told her to report the incident.

That night, the woman had a panic attack, she told the investigator. Her supervisor said she stayed home from work the following day.

In response to the complaint, Langrell said he remembered the interaction differently.

“I recall complimenting (the staff member) and giving her a collegial hug/embrace, as I was headed to the Thanksgiving buffet. I may have said she looked nice, but did not mean it any way other than small talk pleasantries,” he recalled. “I did not say she looked sexy.”

The News Tribune is not naming the complainant or other witnesses who were interviewed by the investigator for this report. Most still work at the college, and many said in interviews with the investigator that they fear retaliation for speaking out.

On Feb. 6, the Bates board voted to continue Langrell’s paid administrative leave until both parties, through legal counsel, can reach an agreement on “his possible reinstatement.”

Hugging, yelling and shoe-throwing

In November, Diamond of D Diamond Consulting was hired to investigate the complaint. She interviewed 28 people, including current and former Bates staffers.

A number of people, including the woman who formally complained, said Langrell made them uncomfortable with unwanted hugs and comments about their physical appearance, including calling some women “sexy” and “beautiful.”

Records show the interviews about Langrell’s behavior were wide-ranging, stretching back to his early days at the college.

Many complaints had nothing to do with sexual harassment but delved into areas of questionable travel expenses and what some saw as intimidating behavior by Langrell, including swearing, insulting staff and one incident where he reportedly took off his shoe and threw it during a meeting.

Bates staff described a mercurial president who can be warm and charismatic or angry and insulting. His large physical stature and position as college president combine to cut an intimidating figure, according to Diamond’s report.

“There are two sides to Dr. Langrell, which makes me nervous,” said one staffer. “One day, he is nice, supportive, and understanding. Another day, he is angry, confrontational and undermining, talking negatively behind your back.”

Many female employees spoke of intrusive hugs.

“There is a running joke among female faculty and staff about trying to avoid the weird hugs of BTC President Ron Langrell,” one witness told Diamond. “Female colleagues will alert each other that Dr. Langrell is approaching and comment, ‘Don’t let him hug you.’”

In the report, one woman detailed several encounters early in Langrell’s time at Bates in which he called her sexy. She said it started shortly after he became the college president in 2012.

As a recruiter, she was used to having regular one-on-one meetings with the president and wanted to continue that when Langrell took over. In October 2012, they met for the first time in his office, and he closed the door.

“Since the very beginning, I felt uncomfortable with the way he was looking at me. I shared what we were doing and what plans we had for the future. In the midst of my presentation, out of nowhere, Dr. Langrell said something like, ‘You are not only sexy and beautiful but also smart,’” she told the investigator.

Langrell told her she wouldn’t be in her current position much longer and said that she was “going to go places with him,” she said. He then asked if she was married. She said she wasn’t. After that meeting, she decided not to have one-on-one meetings with Langrell again and told her direct supervisor, Ivan Gorne (now retired).

The woman described a subsequent meeting in which Langrell made comments she found inappropriate.

It was in July 2013, she said, during a meeting with Gorne and Langrell. At one point, she said, Langrell addressed her.

“’You are so beautiful and so sexy,’” she recalled to the investigator. “He said, ‘I know we could get a lot of Latino students if I could just take a picture of you and put it on a bus.’”

Records show her supervisor emailed her later to apologize for the president’s behavior.

“Sorry about Ron’s parting comment to you yesterday. I understood what you meant when you mentioned a couple other instances, but witnessing it first hand (sic) was interesting and I am sure awkward for you. Hmmm,” Gorne wrote.

She said Gorne asked if she wanted to do anything about it, but she decided not to.

“I did not want to make waves by making accusations,” she told the investigator. “I decided that, for the sake of my children and my career, I would handle it by never meeting one-on-one with Langrell.”

Another female colleague recalled several instances where Langrell’s hugs and comments made her feel uncomfortable.

Just before she got married, she told Diamond, Langrell told her to “come here and give me a hug,” then immediately after hugging her pulled her back in and said, “Let me get one more hug before you’re a married woman,” and bear hugged her again.

About a year later, when she was pregnant and he noticed a picture of an ultrasound on her desk, he said, “Stand up here and let me hug that baby,” and gave her a bear hug.

“As Dr. Langrell’s subordinate, I do not feel I can say no. It would be even more uncomfortable to refuse than to accept his uncalled-for hugs,” she said in her interview. “This incident occurred in front of my staff, which made me particularly uncomfortable because I felt it modeled inappropriate behavior from leadership.”

At one point, she said she discussed a comment Langrell made about her chest with the Bates human resources director, who told her the president pushed the boundaries of appropriate office behavior.

In his interview with Diamond, the current HR director said he and his predecessor both suggested to Langrell that he ask permission before hugging anyone and said the former HR director also warned Langrell against using “locker-room talk.” In early 2017, the current director advised Langrell to stop hugging people at work altogether.

“I said that seeking permission was not working because people did not seem to feel free to say no, based on the power of his position,” the HR director told the investigator. “Dr. Langrell acknowledged my guidance.”

The investigation shows at least one woman who doesn’t work for Bates felt uncomfortable with some comments Langrell allegedly made to her.

The woman was a graduate student doing research for her dissertation when she interviewed Langrell in his office in December 2015. He said that she was “half in love” with him after he described his successes in increasing diversity among the college’s upper management, according to Diamond’s investigation.

“You’re thinking you want to have my babies and we want to get married right now,” Langrell said, according to a transcript of the interview.

“I was so shocked that I laughed nervously, and I could barely focus on the rest of the interview,” the witness told Diamond. “I was alone in Dr. Langrell’s office and his assistants had left for the day. The entire situation made me feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable. I could not wait to leave.”

Some Bates employees described instances where Langrell yelled at and insulted them in front of others during meetings. A few people recalled a time when Langrell took off his shoe and threw it in the direction of a staffer. At the time it seemed to be taken by some in the room as a joke, but others were ruffled by it and felt the move was designed to intimidate them, according to interviews.

A male dean filed a formal complaint about Langrell’s behavior in December.

He said he was chauffeuring community college presidents in October 2014 for an evening social event at Bates. The dean said he was talking to one of the presidents when Langrell stood very close behind him and began massaging his shoulders, commenting on how strong they were.

“Quite frankly, his touching me felt creepy and weird,” he told the investigator.

He said he thought it was done to demean him in front of presidents from other colleges.

In another instance in early 2013, the same dean said he wore a pair of brand new, yellow running shoes to work in an effort to break them in. As he was preparing for a formal meeting with Langrell, the president’s assistants teased him about wearing running shoes with a suit.

“Dr. Langrell came into the conference room and immediately started insulting me about my shoes,” he recalled. “I was caught off-guard, and replied with, ‘What does this have to do with our meeting?’”

The dean said Langrell continued laying into him, telling him he had no fashion sense. At one point he said the president pushed his chair back, raised his voice and slammed one of his own shoes on the conference table, cursing and yelling that his shoes cost $1,000 and were made from fine Italian leather. The dean said Langrell then stormed out of the conference room. Another witness who was there at the time recalled it similarly.

“Dr. Langrell got so angry and chewed out (the dean), as if his wearing those shoes was somehow a personal insult to Dr. Langrell,” the other witness said. “I signaled to (the dean) to just take it and say nothing in response.”

Langrell has a clean employment record

Not everyone interviewed said they’re uncomfortable with Langrell’s hugs or comments.

One staffer who had recently lost weight said it was a compliment when Langrell noticed and “told me I looked fantastic.” Several said the hugging doesn’t bother them and said Langrell is a caring boss with a good vision for the college.

“Dr. Langrell is friendly, kind and considerate,” said an employee who works with him closely. “Although I do not think Dr. Langrell intends to be demeaning, I can see where the way he shows empathy might be construed as less than appropriate at times.”

McAleenan, of law firm Smith Alling, called Diamond’s investigation one-sided and biased against Langrell, who has never faced any formal complaints about his behavior before this. McAleenan and his team also contend that the surveillance video of the encounter between Langrell and the female staffer who filed the Nov. 16 complaint shows a cordial, friendly interaction.

Langrell’s employment file is clean, according to his attorneys and the college.

The Nov. 16 complaint was the first against Langrell as an individual, which The News Tribune verified through a public records request. He was named in a discrimination complaint filed by a former dean against the institution and another in which a job applicant alleged Bates didn’t hire him because he was too old.

A Bates spokeswoman said he has no history of disciplinary actions or formal notices about his behavior. According to his legal team’s request for reconsideration, “There is not even a mention of any verbal warnings or discussions with Langrell in his file concerning any of the alleged inappropriate behavior or statements.”

Last summer, the Bates board renewed his contract for another three years with an annual salary of $202,292.30.

Apart from being told to ease up on the use of profanity, the college acknowledged that none of the concerns about his hugging or comments had been formally documented before Nov. 16. The current human resources director and his predecessor advised Langrell not to use locker-room talk and warned him about hugging but did not put him on formal notice.

Langrell’s attorneys said there is no evidence of sexual harassment and contended claims from four years ago that never were formally documented shouldn’t have been brought into the investigation.

“As Dr. Langrell’s employment file reflects, there is not a single complaint, allegation, admonishment, or counseling note that his behavior needed to adjust,” McAleenan wrote.

McAleenan also said some of the complainants had “beefs” against Langrell because they feared their own contracts might not be renewed and because of layoffs and steep budget cuts Langrell implemented when he took the reins as president.

In his own interview with the investigator, Langrell said he had not “chased anyone around the table or engaged in sexual harassment/misconduct.”

“However,” he said, “I am aware that every male on the planet is reflecting on whether a past behavior may be considered harassment,” referring to the recent national reckoning regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.

Langrell said he tries to be aware of his large physical stature and his position as president and tries not to intrude on people’s personal space. He said he occasionally hugs people and doesn’t generally ask for permission but tries to read non-verbal cues.

“Except until after the complaints alleged herein and this investigation began, I do not recall anyone suggesting I alter my greeting efforts,” he said. “I do recall, however, former HR director Geof Kaufman telling me on one occasion to be more careful about using profane language after a candidate expressed discomfort with my colorful language.”

Langrell said he “can be a bit of a buffoon/personality at times.” He said he has sometimes misread whether a joke was received the way he meant it.

The next scheduled meeting of the Bates board is Feb. 27.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud