Gabriel Piterberg, a tenured history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, faced two allegations of sexual harassment in the past five years.
After the first accusation, Dr. Piterberg was barred from closed-door, one-on-one meetings with students in his office, was told by UCLA not to have romantic relationships with students, paid a fine and took a one-quarter suspension, the school said. The allegations, according to a legal complaint, included unwelcome comments and forcing his tongue into a graduate student's mouth.
Dissatisfied with the response, the student—and another with similar complaints—sued UCLA and settled in 2016 for a combined $460,000, according to the lawsuit and settlement documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
In March, after a new investigation by the university into that conduct, he signed a separation agreement from the school. Dr. Piterberg declined to comment, though UCLA has said he disputes the internal investigation's findings.
A UCLA spokesman noted that the school has changed its policies and procedures since the original settlement with Dr. Piterberg. The school, in a statement about the investigation and 2018 settlement, said it "remains firmly committed to increasing transparency on the issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence."
Colleges and universities have struggled for years with how to handle complaints of sexual harassment and assault, since long before the #MeToo movement and Michigan State University's $500 million settlement last month with victims of former sports-medicine doctor Larry Nassar raised the stakes over the issue. It is too soon to know whether schools have been prompted to rethink their responses in the wake of the latest developments; some, like the University of California system, had already begun to revamp their policies after seeing institutions criticized for light penalties.
Schools often choose to resolve complaints outside the court system but within the constraints of the tenure system, coming up with workarounds for accused faculty members: Keep your office door open. Don't mentor any women. No coffees or dinners with students.
Tenure protections, intended to ensure that faculty aren't penalized for having unpopular views or for researching controversial topics, mean there is a high bar for more serious sanctions.
"What you often see is behavior that would get a staff member fired is not enough to get a tenured faculty member fired for cause," said Natasha Baker, a partner at employment and higher-education law firm Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP.
In the summer of 2016, University of Wisconsin administrators met with urban- and regional-planning professor Harvey Jacobs to discuss his alleged behavior, according to a letter they sent to Dr. Jacobs in April 2017 that was reviewed by the Journal.
Administrators received more complaints last spring, including that he stared at a colleague's breasts and made her feel "extremely uncomfortable, objectified, and victimized," the letter said. They took a more direct tack: Dr. Jacobs was told not to meet alone with, advise or mentor female students, staff or junior faculty, according to the letter.
In December, the restrictions were extended to men, so women weren't disadvantaged by limited access to the professor, the school said. Dr. Jacobs retired effective May 21, though the school said its investigation into his behavior continues. A spokeswoman said the university is committed to addressing sexual harassment and climate issues and supports a number of enhanced prevention and education programs.
Dr. Jacobs didn't respond to emailed requests for comment in May or earlier this month. A woman who answered the phone at a number listed for Dr. Jacobs' home on Tuesday said he wasn't available.
"What kind of message does it send that you're allowing someone to work on campus but you don't trust them with students?" asked Will Mallari, an independent Title IX workplace investigator and attorney who used to run such inquiries at the University of California system, speaking broadly about restrictions some schools place on faculty members.
Limiting how faculty members interact with students, without removing them from the school entirely, sometimes can fulfill a school's Title IX requirements to eliminate harassment and prevent its recurrence, said Josh Richards, vice chair of the higher education practice at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP.
"There's no playbook for how institutions are required to do that," he said. While students or others may call for a more severe penalty, "that's just not required under the law."
During his final two months at the University of Michigan, statistics professor Edward Rothman had agreed to "limit student contact to classroom teaching and regularly-scheduled office hours," and to "not socialize with students which includes, but is not limited to, having meals or coffee with students," according to a settlement agreement reviewed by The Journal.
He retired at the end of 2016 and received a $135,000 payout, according to the settlement documents.
Accusations or findings against Dr. Rothman weren't disclosed, but Michigan released the documents in response to a public-records request by the Journal for settlements related to sexual-harassment allegations.
In February 2017, he was identified by the school's regents as "an exceptional scholar, teacher and mentor," and he remains an emeritus professor.
A Michigan spokesman said the university's response to harassment allegations "is always tailored to a specific situation." He noted that Dr. Rothman doesn't have a faculty office on campus.
Dr. Rothman declined to comment.