Former UC Investigator Alleges he was Fired for Challenging Chancellor Khosla


Kaitlin Lee, Associate News Editor

A former Director of Investigation for the UC Office of the President has sued the UC Regents and the Chief Compliance and Audit Officer of UC Regents, Alexander Bustamente, for violating the California Whistleblower Protection Act and for retaliation in violation of labor codes. 

The lawsuit states that the investigator, John Torres, became involved in a whistleblower complaint investigation involving Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. However, the UC Regents and Bustamente protected Khosla by choosing not to allow investigations into gender discrimination allegations against Khosla and by removing Torres’ submitted findings regarding Khosla’s bullying, alcohol use, discrimination, and other inappropriate and illegal behavior. 

Beyond that, Torres found there was improper activity within the investigation of the 2018 whistleblower report. Torres reported that dating around May 3, 2020, Bustamente made several statements about “protecting” Khosla, as well as failing to disclose information about Khosla’s alleged alcohol usage and bullying in a letter sent to UC President Janet Napolitano. Bustamente also allegedly attempted to change department processes and the format for Charge Letters to circumvent the Office of General Counsel’s UC Whistleblower subject matter expert Stephanie Lieder. 

Torres reported to UCOP President Michael Drake that he worried Bustamente was engaging in retaliation against him for his previous disclosures and for working with a different external investigation of the ECAS’s practices and policies. When Bustamente and the UC Regents found out about this warning, allegedly they imposed new, unreasonable working conditions. They mandated a seven-day turnaround for completion of all charge and notice letters, and applied these new mandates to old letters. Bustamente also allegedly placed Torres on a Performance Improvement Plan around Feb. 18, 2021, and he informed the plaintiff that this plan was intended to lead to Torres’s termination unless he could take an alternative solution where he would resign. Torres believes that this Performance Improvement plan was a part of Bustamente’s attempt to retaliate against him.

The UCSD Guardian reached out to UCOP and UC San Diego for comments. While UCSD declined to respond, UCOP Associate Director of Media Relations Ryan King relayed a statement through email. 

“The University of California is aware of the lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court. We are unable to comment on the specifics of pending litigation concerning employees within the University of California Office of the President,” the statement read. “However, we believe the complaint and the associated allegations to be without merit and fully expect the facts of the case to demonstrate that no retaliation took place and that there is no evidence that improper influence was exerted in previous investigations. The University has full faith and confidence in both our office of Ethics, Compliance and Audit Services and the San Diego campus leadership.”

The Guardian also reached out to Torres’ representation, Mark Quigley and Christian Nickerson from Greene Broillet and Wheeler, LLP. They declined to comment. 

The Guardian will continue to monitor the lawsuit as it progresses.

Photo courtesy of San Diego Union Tribune