A former USC student filed a lawsuit on April 20 accusing tenured Marshall School of Business professor Choong Whan Park of sexual assault over a 3-year period. Park retired at the end of the spring 2021 semester.
Park was hired by the university in 1997 as a professor of marketing and was named the director of the Global Branding Center in 2001. He goes by C.W. Park.
USC was also named a defendant in the suit and is accused of discrimination. The lawsuit claims that “USC knew that Park was targeting female Korean [student assistants] for his harassment, abuse and discrimination.” The university filed a response June 16 denying the allegations. It says that USC “did not commit the acts or omissions alleged in the Complaint for discriminatory or retaliatory motives.”
Asked for further comment, a USC spokeswoman said, “We are unable to discuss the issue because of the confidential nature of personnel matters.” A Marshall spokesperson offered a similar comment, citing the lawsuit as “an ongoing legal matter.”
Park and his lawyers have not filed a response to the lawsuit and declined Annenberg Media’s requests for comment.
The plaintiff, Yi Youn Kim, a Korean American woman, was hired by the university as Park’s student assistant in August 2016 and directly reported to him until April 2019.
Kim claims that several months into her employment, in the spring of 2017, Park asked her to close the door to his office when she arrived for work and made nonconsensual sexual advances. The lawsuit accuses Park of saying, ‘I just can’t control myself around you.”
In the lawsuit, Kim claims that Park, now 76, “sexually assaulted and harassed” her four additional times over the course of her employment — twice during the fall of 2017, once during the fall of 2018, and a final time on April 24, 2019.
According to the lawsuit, Park, who moved to the U.S. from Korea in the late 1960s, spoke almost exclusively in Korean to Kim during her employment. The lawsuit alleges that “as an older Korean man, Park knew the cultural difficulty that Kim would experience in trying to stop, protest and/or report Park’s sexual assaults and harassment.”
Park began teaching at the university level in 1994. His residencies include the University of Pittsburgh, University of Kansas and UCLA. He is married with two children.
Kim said she filed a formal complaint with the Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX at USC on Oct. 12, 2020. The complaint triggered an internal investigation by USC, during which at least three other young women of Korean descent claimed they had been sexually assaulted while working with Park, according to the lawsuit.
According to Kim’s lawyer, Jane Reilley, the internal investigation was never made public. USC declined to comment on the status or accessibility of the investigation. Reilley declined to comment on her access to the investigation’s report and would not specify whether the three women were discovered through USC’s internal investigation or if they came forward of their own accord.
The lawsuit alleges that Park is a “serial sexual predator” with a “dangerous propensity to sexually assault and harass USC’s young female students,” particularly those of Korean descent.
The three women mentioned in the lawsuit, identified only as Victim 1, Victim 2 and Victim 3, alleged similar experiences of non-consensual touching, hugging, kissing and groping accompanied by sexual comments about their bodies. Their claims of sexual assault and harassment date back to 2011, the lawsuit states.
It is unclear how these women began working for Park.
The lawsuit alleges that a Marshall administrative employee, Ruth Joya, contacted Kim in August 2016 and told her that Park was in need of a student assistant. The lawsuit states that Joya informed Kim that she had already provided Park with Kim’s contact information before getting her permission to do so. Joya did not respond to requests for comment.
Reilley told Annenberg Media that Park was looking for a long-term student assistant to help with Korean translation and that Joya intentionally selected Kim with that knowledge.
It is unclear where Joya received information that Kim spoke Korean.
There was no announcement of Park’s retirement and his faculty profile can still be viewed on the USC website. The Marshall spokesperson declined to comment on the reason for his departure.
According to the USC Schedule of Classes archive, Park taught his last class in the summer 2020 semester. Throughout his tenure, he primarily taught graduate-level courses, specifically, Branding Strategy and Global Marketing.
Kim also filed a discrimination complaint against USC with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing in December 2020. She received an immediate Right to Sue notice and was given a year to file a civil action.
The period in question in the lawsuit mostly coincided with the leadership of then-Marshall Dean James Ellis, who stepped down in December 2018 following an internal investigation into the handling of harassment and discrimination complaints.
It is unclear whether there were complaints against Park discovered in the report from that investigation, which was never made public by the university.
During the search for Marshall’s new dean, Associate Professor of International Relations Carol Wise, told Annenberg Media two years ago that women at Marshall have to endure a “tits-and-ass culture.”
Wise, who does not teach at Marshall, said that she often works with students in the International Relations, Global Business major who are required to take courses in the business school. She said that she has been a confidant for many female students who do not feel comfortable reporting sexual harassment to the university.
“These guys [Marshall professors] think it’s normal [to harass women]. That tells you about the culture,” she said in a recent interview with Annenberg Media. “I consider the business school the outback of bad behavior. It’s been where you can really get away with a lot.”
Reilley, who was one of the attorneys representing the women who sued over widespread sex abuse in the case against former USC student health doctor George Tyndall, reiterated the need for a change in culture and expressed hope that this lawsuit will ensure that others do not suffer from similar experiences.
All parties will meet with a judge on Sept. 17 to further discuss the case.