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Public Safety

Report: 8 Women Claim Sex Harassment At California Institute

A sign at the Salk Institute in La Jolla is shown in this undated photo.
Milan Kovacevic
A sign at the Salk Institute in La Jolla is shown in this undated photo.

A Salk Institute biologist on Tuesday denied allegations that he sexually harassed at least eight women over 30 years at the renowned Southern California research center.

The eight spoke to the journal Science and alleged a pattern of harassment by star biologist Inder Verma dating back to 1976. His alleged behavior included forced kisses, pinching women's behinds and touching their breasts. Five of the women spoke on the record to Science and three did it anonymously.

Inder Verma, a scientist and researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, is pictured above, April 23, 2018.
www.salk.edu
Inder Verma, a scientist and researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, is pictured above, April 23, 2018.

His attorney told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Verma denies all the allegations. The 70-year-old scientist has been placed on administrative leave during an investigation by an independent outside party, the institute said.

"I have been avoiding (Verma) for 30 years," neuroscientist Pam Mellon told the journal. She claimed Verma grabbed her breasts during a party at her home when she as an assistant professor at Salk in the mid-1980s.

"The quotes and story about my experience are correct," Mellon told the Union-Tribune by email.

The Salk released a statement Tuesday that said the institute doesn't condone any inappropriate behavior among its employees.

"Consistent with Salk's long-standing policies governing workplace conduct, including policies prohibiting sexual harassment, the Institute undertook a formal investigation of Dr. Verma in early March," the statement said.

In an email to the Union Tribune last month, Verma said: "I have never inappropriately touched, nor have I made any sexually charged comments, to anyone affiliated with the Salk Institute."

It's the latest uproar at the research center, which was sued last summer by three female professors alleging gender discrimination.

Victoria Lundblad, Katherine Jones and Beverly Emerson said Salk systematically discriminates against women when it comes to salary, promotions, lab space and access to private grants.

In the Science story, Emerson also alleged that Verma grabbed her and kissed her on the mouth in the Salk library.

Salk officials have denied the allegations about gender discrimination.