A University of Washington researcher has been removed from his lab and put on home assignment after the university found he sexually harassed women who worked in his lab and asked employees to solicit a prostitute for him.

Share story

A University of Washington researcher whose cutting-edge work has put the UW on the forefront of Ebola and flu research has been removed from his lab after two university investigations found he sexually harassed women who worked there and asked employees to solicit a prostitute for him.

The investigations, first reported Wednesday by BuzzFeed News, found that microbiology professor Michael Katze, associate director for research in the Regional Primate Research Center, routinely bullied and demeaned employees.

Katze is still drawing his $120,000-a-year base salary, UW officials said. A faculty adjudication panel is now weighing whether Katze, who is a tenured professor, should lose his job.

His lab, which employed 25 to 35 employees, was shut down in April and the money disbursed to other labs. Meanwhile, Katze unsuccessfully sued the UW for removing him from his job and also unsuccessfully sued the UW and BuzzFeed reporter Azeen Ghorayshi, saying BuzzFeed’s records request would violate his right to privacy if disclosed. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, Katze was widely interviewed in the media because of his expertise in viruses.

In a statement, UW spokesman Norm Arkans said Katze was removed from the lab and put on home assignment after the sexual-harassment complaints were made.

“His conduct was inappropriate and not in any way reflective of the university’s values,” Arkans said. “That is why the matter is now in the faculty disciplinary process, through which an appropriate outcome will be adjudicated.”

In January, UW investigator Ian Messerle found that Katze created a hostile work environment for a woman under his direct supervision because he “persistently, and for an extended period of time, made unwanted sexual comments and jokes,” attempted to kiss or touch her, sent her sexually themed emails and reminded her often that he could fire her.

Messerle’s 53-page report found that Katze had a quid pro quo sexual relationship with another woman under his direct supervision, that he was “grossly overpaying her for the small amount of University work that she performed,” and that he suggested to her that maintaining a sexual relationship with him was “an implicit condition of her employment.”

The woman, whose primary job was managing Katze’s calendar, made $75,732 a year.

Messerle also found that Katze persisted in viewing pornography on his computer even when he was warned not to, and that his behavior and language was described by employees as cruel and crude, as well as racist, sexist and homophobic.

The investigator wrote that the university had received complaints about Katze’s behavior on six separate occasions, as far back as 2006.

In November 2015, the UW’s School of Medicine created a special investigations committee to examine whether Katze violated university or state policies. The committee found that Katze asked UW employees to solicit a prostitute for him, and to procure medical marijuana and a prescription painkiller for him.

Employees also performed personal errands for him, including buying and overseeing the delivery of furniture, paying a parking ticket, and providing technological support for someone who did not appear to be a UW employee, the investigations committee found. Those actions violated administrative policies because he asked staff to perform work of a personal nature.

Katze was also found to have violated the UW Medicine policy on professional conduct, and state policy on use of state resources for personal use.

According to BuzzFeed, the university received about $30 million in federal grants to support Katze’s research into viruses and AIDS vaccines. In spring 2015, however, a scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who collaborated with Katze terminated a $1.2 million federal research contract with him. The contract was ended after an audit raised questions about how the money was spent.

BuzzFeed reported that Katze was also accused of financial improprieties in 2007 but was never investigated.

Katze sued the UW for removing him from the job, and for damaging his name, honor and integrity.

In his report, Messerle said that he interviewed 26 witnesses, and that his review included about 1.2 million email and text messages, although some were duplicates.

He called the investigation “unique, in my experience, for the great number of interviewees who expressed to me concerns about retaliation.”

Wrote Messerle: “The level of across-the-board concern I observed was unlike anything I had seen in any investigation I had previously conducted.”