As Paula Penson walked down the steps of the Sheffield-Thompson building on the Shorter University campus Nov. 7, she crossed paths with Corey Humphries, a man she was instructed to not have any contact with following her complaints of sexual and work harassment against her.
Penson, the director of campus safety at Shorter, was wearing sunglasses when she saw him. She did her best to look away from the then-vice president of student affairs and her direct supervisor. But he never took her eyes off her.
When she glanced up, she caught his gaze.
“If looks could have killed, I’d be dead,” she said. “He did a double-take looking at me.”
As she continued to proceed down the stairs, James Hall, the assistant director of campus safety, stopped to talk with Humphries, who was heading into President Donald Dowless’ office, she said. Hall went everywhere with Penson since her claims against Humphries were first reported to Shorter’s human resources department in October.
The two men didn’t say much to each other. But when Hall and Penson came back together, he told her Humphries looked distraught and frazzled. She had been told by others at the university that “he is looking suicidal,” mad at the world and filled with anger.
“That scared me because he carries a firearm, he did on campus,” she said.
With a wife and three kids, along with one on the way, Humphries was a man with a lot to lose, Penson said. The encounter prompted her to file a report detailing Humphries’ alleged actions against her with Rome police, leading to her claims reaching the public.
Penson said she was informed of Humphries resignation the next day, Nov. 8. But despite this, the two were still in close proximity in the days that followed. His university-provided home at 1 Rockridge Drive was right down the steps from her office. Up until last week, when she said he moved out, he still drove up on the campus and parked his vehicle in the welcome center parking lot.
Her worries about Humphries and any potential retaliation against her weren’t settled during this time, but the university felt differently, she said.
“This is what they’re saying: Mr. Humphries resigned, so he’s no longer affiliated with them, so they resolved that sexual battery and work harassment,” she said. “That they resolved that by him resigning. Well, all this other has backed up and got on top of it, them harassing me now with the retaliation.”
It’s a matter of time, Penson said, until she is fired from Shorter for bringing all this to light. Right now, she feels someone is digging up dirt on her to get her fired.
“I know it’s gonna happen,” she said. “I’m not quitting.”
Penson pointed to what she feels is a prolonged internal investigation, which, at its conclusion, would lead to recommendations to the university on resolving her case.
“It doesn’t matter what his recommendations are because you don’t have to uphold them,” she said. “This is just the formality — the protocol that you do.”
David Archer, the conflict investigator appointed by the university’s law firm, Brinson, Askew and Berry, had recommended that Humphries should be put on administrative leave on Oct. 26, the day of a board of trustees meeting, Penson said. But that didn’t happen, she said, diminishing her faith in the university doing the right thing in her mind.
“I just wanted the man to leave me alone. I wanted the man to leave me alone at work because I love my job,” she said. “I’ve been loyal to Shorter and, right now, I’m more hurt by Shorter. I really thought they cared about me.”
But a leave of absence or a resignation by Humphries wouldn’t have been necessary, she said, if Shorter had taken the steps necessary to reaching an agreement that set the boundaries of the work relationship between Penson and him.
“They could have put us in a room and we could have talked this out. I really feel like that could have happened. That was my intention was to leave me alone at work… Just as easy as that. Leave me alone.”
She said she just wanted him to leave her alone and let her do her job. She was also willing to speak with him about the situation and work it out amicably.
“This is how I feel: If Shorter had taken the necessary steps and the right steps to this, he and I would probably still be there right now working, under a working relationship because that’s all I wanted,” she said.