After working at GGC for nearly a decade, Rontai Walker, the former Associate Director of Student Involvement and the Student Center (SISC), was fired for discriminatory harassment toward a female subordinate, effective May 30, 2019.
Walker’s departure was shrouded in mystery for several months, but documents obtained by The Globe reveal the reason for his termination and that it was not the first time Walker had run into trouble.
On March 25, a female employee who worked under Walker complained to Dr. Lakiesa Rawlinson, Director of SISC, that he “consistently delivers microaggressions” and that his behavior factored into her decision to “seek employment at another institution.”
Dr. Rawlinson filed a formal complaint on her behalf to the Office of Diversity and Equity Compliance (ODEC).
Jarmon DeSadier, Executive Director of ODEC, investigated and determined that Walker had violated GGC’s Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy.
“I find that there is a preponderance of evidence that Mr. Walker’s course of conduct rises to the level of discriminatory harassment,” DeSadier concluded in his report.
Walker’s Comments and Response
On at least one occasion, Walker told the complainant that he had “yellow fever,” a term typically used to indicate a sexual fetish for Asian women. (The complainant is of Asian descent.)
Other comments included “discussions initiated by Mr. Walker regarding his son’s interest in an Asian girl neighbor; Mr. Walker’s son’s interest in Japanese Rock music; a text sent by Mr. Walker to [the complainant] about a Japanese Rock band; Mr. Walker asking [the complainant] to teach him about being Asian [after receiving an ancestry test revealing his Asian heritage]; as well as referring to [the complainant] as a relationship ninja.”
Walker “admitted to making all of the alleged comments,” as well as initiating them, but “further stated that there was no ill will behind any of his comments,” DeSadier wrote.
“I was never under the impression that [the complainant] was uncomfortable or offended,” Walker wrote in an email to DeSadier, “because in my opinion, she was actively and willingly engaged in the conversations,” which Walker described as “opportunities for cultural learning and exchange.”
“Never would I have imagined that a person tasked with educating others on culture would feel uncomfortable discussing their own,” he wrote.
Walker also took issue with DeSadier’s statement that the complainant was the only SISC employee of Asian descent. “[B]eing dismissive of my Asian ancestry, and identifying [the complainant] as the sole person of Asian descent is problematic in light of the allegations of discrimination,” he wrote.
The Globe was unable to get in touch with Walker for this story.
Prior Misconduct Leads to “Final Warning”
When recommending the appropriate sanctions, DeSadier noted that Walker “had previously been investigated… for making inappropriate workplace comments,” thus indicating “a possible pattern of behavior.”
Walker was investigated twice in 2017, first by the Office of Human Resources and then by ODEC. The latter investigation resulted in a “final warning.”
Elizabeth Davis, Associate Director of Human Resources, first investigated and determined that Walker had violated GGC’s Code of Conduct, which requires employees to “treat fellow employees, students and the public with dignity and respect,” as well as “comply with all applicable laws, rules, regulations and professional standards.”
On Sept. 20, 2017, Davis sent a memorandum to Walker with her findings.
“In conclusion of this investigation, it is evident that you have conducted yourself in an unprofessional and offensive manner towards your colleagues,” she wrote.
Davis considered three complaints against Walker, all of which were made by employees in Student Affairs, though only the first two complaints were substantiated.
According to the first complaint, Walker said to a female administrative assistant in the parking lot, “Don’t mean to be rude, but your ass is showing. It’s my lucky day, I saw an eclipse and a full moon.”
Walker admitted to making the comment but said that “his intent… was to make her aware that her skirt was see-through,” Davis wrote in her interview notes. “He expressed that he was disappointed in making the whole statement.”
The second complaint referred to a conversation Walker initiated with another female administrative assistant. He told her that he was approached by a prostitute while chaperoning a GGC trip to the Dominican Republic.
The conversation occurred in the presence of two students.
Walker told Davis that he “could not recall the frame of mind” he was in when he made the comments and also said that he did not recall whether any students were present.
On Oct. 9, 2017, Davis referred her findings to ODEC regarding the second complaint, which prompted an additional investigation.
Erika Robinson, Executive Director of the Diversity, Institutional Equity and Title IX Program, investigated to determine whether Walker’s behavior amounted to discriminatory harassment.
“The discussion initiated by [Walker], while inappropriate for a work setting, do not [sic] rise to the level of a violation of the College’s Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy,” Robinson concluded.
Robinson found that, in addition to the other criteria not being met, Walker’s behavior could not be classified as unwelcome because after Walker left, the assistant “continued the discussion… by making a joke with the students when she stated, ‘Rontai can’t do nothing for me…’ This statement was accompanied by a gesture where [the assistant] used her pinky finger to describe the size of Mr. Walker’s penis.”
Walker was required to review GGC’s relevant policies and complete two courses regarding proper communication in the workplace.
Position Still Vacant and GGC Response
Candidates are being interviewed for the position of Associate Director.
This news breaks in the midst of GGC’s Ethics Awareness Week, which will be accompanied by an internal audit of the institution’s operations.
A GGC spokesperson provided the followed response upon learning that Walker’s firing would be covered by The Globe:
“Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) is committed to the highest ethical and professional standards of conduct in pursuit of its mission and takes very seriously accusations of violations to the Code of Conduct. Following a thorough review, individuals who are found to be in violation of the Code of Conduct will be subject to disciplinary action or even termination.”