Hidden Camera Title IX Case Drags to an End After 16 Months

In a Title IX case characterized by incessant delays, non-disclosure agreements, and frustration, a conclusion was finally reached late last November.

The case dates from July 17th, 2022, when a student participating in the Freshman Summer Research Institute (FSRI) hid a camera in a communal bathroom in a Bechtel Residence suite. Within the first 72 hours, the owner of the camera was identified, video footage of the camera’s installation was discovered, and members of the suite received an apology letter from the owner of the camera. However, despite the prompt discovery of an abundance of evidence, the case took more than 16 months to resolve.

The unexpected length of the case has come at the expense of the other students in the suite (the “complainants”). Four of these students, who were interviewed by the Tech, say they are disappointed by the numerous delays and lack of consistent communication from the Title IX Office. “I’d be having a good day, and then I’d get an email from the Title IX Office…” one of the suite members recalled. “I just wanted it to be done.”

The Deans’ Office expelled the respondent on November 27th, marking the end of a painful saga. The timeline was triple the length of what complainants were told as a best estimate by Hima Vatti, Caltech’s Title IX Coordinator, at the onset of the investigation. Some of the complainants even accuse the Title IX Office of “deflecting and delaying” and working to protect the Institute’s image during the drawn-out process.


According to a letter from the Title IX Office sent to the complainants and reviewed by the Tech, suite residents alerted Caltech Security after discovering a device in the shared bathroom. Security took the camera into their possession, conducted a sweep of the restrooms, and notified the Pasadena Police Department (PPD). The device had the appearance of a charging block and contained a hidden camera and microphone. It allegedly recorded individuals without their consent from approximately 4:00pm, July 17, 2022 until 3:30 pm July 18, 2022.

The student in the suite who owned the camera (the “respondent”) admitted to Caltech Security he was the owner of the device, that he had intended it to record, that he had set it up and enabled recording, and that he intended to do something with the material recorded, according to the letter from the Title IX Office.

The respondent was relocated from Bechtel to another house on the night of July 18, 2022. The Title IX Office established a no-contact order between the complainants and the respondent, who left Caltech campus some days later due to the Title IX Emergency Removal process.

The letter also stated that on July 20, 2022, the respondent faxed an apology addressed to all his suitemates through the printer in the suite. In the apology, he asks for forgiveness, saying “I tried to do something that breaks the trust you all had in me.”

On July 22, 2022, a campus-wide email was sent by Hima Vatti, Assistant Vice President for Equity Investigations and Title IX Coordinator, informing the Caltech community that a hidden camera was found in a private restroom, the device was secured, associated restrooms were sweeped of devices, and that the owner of the device was no longer on campus.

According to the complainants, the respondent attended Caltech classes remotely for the 2022-23 academic year.


A visual timeline of the investigation

Seven of the students in the suite filed a formal complaint to the Title IX Office, which decided to pursue an investigation of the incident. The following information was communicated to the complainants via emailed letters from the Title IX office. They were subsequently reviewed by the Tech.

On August 23, 2022, more than a month after the incident, the complainants received a letter from Vatti. It outlined the procedures for the investigation, and gave an explicit timeline.

She told the complainants, “I estimate the process to conclude, with notification to the parties of the outcome, inclusive of appeals, by December 20, 2022.” Additionally, they were informed that “status updates generally will be provided every 30 days or otherwise as deemed appropriate.”

This is in-line with Caltech’s Procedures for Complaints of Sexual Misconduct Under Title IX and the California Education Code, which states that “Complaints will be investigated and resolved within a reasonably prompt time frame after the complaint has been made, generally 120 calendar days” and that updates will be provided “every thirty (30) days.”

On October 24, 2022, the complainants received a letter informing them of the first of many delays in the investigation. The delay was due to “the time required for the investigator to interview the numerous parties and witnesses,” and for a Campus Security Responder to produce a report on video material captured on the device.

According to the letter, the complainants would receive draft evidence reports (the first iteration of the evidence reports that resulted from the Title IX investigation) on November 14, 2022, and the new projected conclusion date was February 27, 2023 (70 days past the original estimate).

53 Days went by without an update from Vatti or anyone in the Title IX Office. The evidence reports were not sent on November 14.

Concerned about the lack of a draft evidence report and updates in general, one of the complainants emailed Vatti about these matters on December 16. Later that same day, complainants received an email from Vatti which notified them that the release of the draft evidence reports would be pushed back to January 23, 2023 (70 more days past the previous estimate).

Said delay was necessitated by “the need to prepare a declaration concerning the video evidence, the significant number of persons to be interviewed in this case and need for follow up by the investigator [of the case].”

The December 16 letter also asked the complainants to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), which would have prohibited sharing any portion of the draft and final evidence report. However, none of them chose to sign it. “Us, as a group, decided to collectively not sign the NDA,” said one complainant.

Three months went by without any communication from the Title IX Office. The evidence reports were not sent on January 23. “Hima just straight up ghosted us for a while,” said one of the complainants.

An update was sent on March 6, 2023, which informed the complainants that they would get their draft evidence reports on March 20, 2023 (56 additional days from the last estimate). According to the letter, the delay was made “for good cause to accommodate the respondent’s ability to participate in the investigation.”

A letter sent on March 17, 2023 pushed back the draft report distribution by another week due to “illness and other factors,” making the new projected date March 27, 2023.

On March 24, 2023, Vatti informed the complainants that more work was needed on the draft evidence reports, and pushed back the distribution another 14 days.

On April 13, 2023, the draft evidence reports were shared with the complainants. The reports were shared even though no one had signed the NDA. However, the complainants were instructed not to share any information about them. The complainants and the respondent were all given 10 days to submit comments on the draft reports, with the goal of producing the final report.

However on April 23, 2023, the complainants were notified via email of a week-long delay of this deadline due to a “technical accommodation” given to the respondent.

Fed up, a complainant sent an email complaining about the delays, citing how the once 4-month timeline had more than doubled to a 9-month one. This email resulted in Vatti meeting with this student in-person, during which she reassured them that the Title IX Office was trying their best. On May 10, 2023, the complainants were informed via email that the final evidence report was estimated to be released on May 22, 2023.

On May 22, 2023, another email pushed back the final report release by two additional weeks, due to a “good cause accommodation” given to the respondent.

Finally, on May 31, 2023, the complainants got the final report.

Hearings were held on July 24-25, 2023. A decision from the Deans’ Office was originally scheduled to come out on September 1st. Though, on August 31st an email from Vatti notified complainants that the third party responsible for writing the decision letter needed up to 3 extra weeks.

On September 15, 2023, the complainants received the decision letter. In the letter, the Deans decided that the respondent would face “Permanent Separation from The Institute.” The respondent had until September 25, 2023 to appeal the Deans’ decision to the VPSA. During the appeal process, the respondent was not allowed back on campus.

In total, there have been 7 delays, with only 3 of them being accommodations for the respondent. The process has taken 401 days since the start of the investigation – over 3 times the original estimated length of 120 days.


The four complainants, interviewed by the Tech late in 2023, said that the unexpected length and numerous delays have drawn out the healing process for them. Dealing with this, a lack of a resolution, a Caltech workload, and adjusting to college life, has taken its toll.

“That was very depressing, I think for all of us. Like, the first week we were at Caltech, and something like this happened,” said a complainant. “And something that happened so quick is now taking a million years to take care of.”

“So we initially felt pretty confident that the Title IX Office was going to take care of business but you know, as time kinda went on, we started to feel uncertain… And I’m just like, really mad,” said another complainant. “I’m really, really mad that they won’t do anything about it, even though it should be an open and shut case.”

Another complainant said, “Every time we got another email, it was very stressful.” One complainant described how they felt the day they got the evidence report: “That was actually a lot to handle in one day – it was too much. Since it had been so long, I just suppressed it… And then I got that email [for the evidence report].”

Though Caltech has offered resources such as accommodations and counseling to the complainants, many of them said it’s not what they want or need.

“There’s no need for them to be like ‘oh [do] you guys need emotional support or … [do] you need any accommodations?’ I don’t want that, I want to finish the case. It’s taking forever,” said a complainant. “Why are we still dealing with this, instead of getting the actual help we need, and not just the help they say we need?”

Another said, “I think they just do everything by the book so as to not get in trouble with the law but don’t do anything in terms of actually helping victims.”

The complainants said the drawn out process by the Title IX Office has caused them to lose faith in the office, and even question its motives. “We [the complainants] get the feeling that they really just want to protect Caltech’s image,” one complainant lamented. “All the Title IX Office does is deflect and delay,” said another.

When asked to comment on the delays, Vatti told the Tech in an email (Editor’s Note: email published in full on tech.caltech.edu) that they are balancing the need for a speedy process, with “the obligation to be fair, accurate, thorough, and compliant with complex legal requirements. The time it has taken reflects the dedication of many people to administer this process not only as required but also with a high degree of care for respecting and protecting the privacy interests” of such a case.

Vatti acknowledged the discomfort caused by the delays. “We are aware and deeply empathize with the frustration and stress that parties experience with timeline extensions.”

The unexpected delays are justified by Vatti, who says, “Oftentimes, the complexity and scope of a Title IX case is not apparent at the very beginning… Title IX regulations allow for the stated target timeline of 120 days to be extended for good cause.”

This story is the first in an ongoing project exploring the state of Title IX affairs at Caltech. If you have any information you would like to share with us regarding this, contact 626-476-4435.

Full email from Hima Vatti:

Dear Michael, Maxwell, and Cristian:

I have done my best to answer your questions. I feel strongly about the need to share as much information as I can with our community, especially as the impetus for the questions you have posed to me concern a matter which understandably has caused a great deal of stress and trauma to many. However, while an individual involved in a Title IX matter can speak freely to others, a Coordinator and other administrators cannot do the same. I cannot speak publicly about specific Title IX investigations, past or present. I would direct you to the campus-wide announcement from July 22, 2022, for public information on the matter.

As to your broader question about process, it is always our goal to move matters forward to resolution as expeditiously as possible. This is both a matter of the fairness of a speedy process and reflective of an interest to mitigate the stress a process causes to the involved parties. Our responsibilities under Title IX require that we continually balance complainants’ and respondents’ need for speedy processes with the obligation to be fair, accurate, thorough, and compliant with complex legal requirements that are currently in place and reflected, in part, in the investigation steps on pages 19-23 of the Procedures you reference in your email to me.

Oftentimes, the complexity and scope of a Title IX case is not apparent at the very beginning, but reveals itself, continually, as evidence is gathered, and questions and issues arise.It is in part because of these known complexities, that Title IX regulations allow for the stated target timeline of 120 days to be extended for good cause, which may include the absences of a complainant, respondent, or witness; disability accommodations; the breadth and scope of the allegations; the number of parties and witnesses; care and concern for managing individual privacy interests; the amount and type of evidence; cooperation with law enforcement processes; examination periods; and obtaining available and suitable hearing officers and advisers for Title IX hearings.

We are aware and deeply empathize with the frustration and stress that parties experience with timeline extensions. While I cannot share specifics about this matter, the time it has taken reflects the dedication of many people to administer this process not only as required but also with a high degree of care for respecting and protecting the privacy interests inherent in a matter where a hidden camera device was placed in a private residential bathroom.

We always welcome dialogue with our community members about our processes and obligations, as well as matters in which they are involved. We will keep the community apprised as our required process changes over the next few months, in response to the new regulations anticipated to be released in October.

Best Wishes,