Amherst College slapped with sex allegations by ex-lecturer

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AMHERST, Mass. Amherst College has responded to a raunchy wrongful-dismissal lawsuit by describing its allegations that a supervisor urged female teaching assistants to have sex with students to boost enrollment in Spanish classes as “frivolous,” and by asserting that the lecturer who sued was legitimately let go.

The allegations, if true, echo previous instances involving using sex to charm athletes into joining collegiate teams and speak to the increasingly prevalent attitudes towards on-campus sex as commonplace and nothing special.

Dimaris Barrios-Beltran, a Spanish teacher let go by the school last year, landed at Mount Holyoke College. She sued Amherst, alleging discrimination, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress as well as wrongful termination. In her complaint, she claims that Victoria Maillo, the Spanish department’s senior lecturer, treated teaching assistants “like prostitutes” by encouraging them to sleep with students to raise enrollment numbers.

Maillo, who left the school last spring, has not replied to the allegations in court. Her lawyer didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In its legal reply, the college said Barrios-Beltran was let go because declining enrollment in Spanish courses left the school with no need for four lecturers, and her contract was due to expire. Administrators chose not to renew it.

In a March 15, 2015, letter, Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein told Barrios-Beltran she had done an “excellent job” but said: “it is with great regret that I inform you that you will not be reappointed as a lecturer in the Spanish Department.”

“Due to low Spanish language enrollments, we cannot support four lecturers at this time,” Epstein wrote. “This is no fault of your own or your colleagues in the department; it is a nationwide trend.”

In responding to the lawsuit, the college claims that Epstein alone decided not to reappoint Barrios-Beltran and “had no knowledge of any allegations” of a “hostile work environment or retaliation.” It said the lecturer had 13 students in three classes in the fall of 2014, “including one class of only two students,” and that out of four Spanish lecturers, hers was the only expiring contract.

Amherst also says it conducted a “comprehensive investigation to evaluate” Barrios-Beltran’s claims, which include discrimination by Maillo. The dismissed teacher said her former supervisor, who is from Spain, ridiculed her for her Puerto Rican accent.

Barrios-Beltran says in her complaint that she grew concerned when Maillo expressed a preference for “pretty faces” when it came to selecting teaching assistants. Barrios-Beltran describes allegations made to her by various teaching assistants, including one who she said claimed that Maillo told her that she expected teaching assistants to “sleep with a different guy every night.”

Amherst says Maillo “denied engaging in any inappropriate behavior as alleged by the plaintiff” in its response to the lawsuit. The school says that in several instances, the allegations made directly against Maillo don’t require a response from the college.

Barrios-Beltran alerted the Spanish department head as well as a Title IX coordinator for the school, as well as people in human resources, but received no response, according to Sarah A. Ornelas, the teacher’s lawyer in Springfield. Amherst dismissed Maillo last spring, Ornelas said by telephone Wednesday.

Several teaching assistants she has contacted backed up her client’s claims, Ornelas said, adding that they’ve since returned to their native Spain.

“I was able to confirm with them firsthand what my client relayed to me,” she said.

“Ms. Barrios-Beltran was not offered a new contract after spring 2015 because of low enrollments in the Spanish Department,” Amherst said in a statement sent by Caroline Hanna, a spokeswoman. “The college investigated Ms. Barrios-Beltran’s allegations and is confident the court will conclude that her legal claims are not supported by the facts. The position of the co-defendant, Victoria Maillo, was also eliminated at the end of the spring 2015 semester as the result of the college’s re-structuring the Spanish Department.”

In responding to Barrios-Beltran’s discrimination claim, which she initially brought to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the college said the complaint should be “barred” as it wasn’t filed within 300 days of when the alleged incidents took place.

Paul G. Lannon, a lawyer for the college, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Ornelas said she expects more information about Maillo’s dismissal to come out as the lawsuit progresses.

Barrios-Beltran sued in early December in Hampshire County Superior Court but lawyers for Maillo and the school got the case moved to federal court on Jan. 8. On Jan. 15, U.S. District Court Judge Mark G. Mastroianni  in Springfield gave Maillo’s lawyer, Peter F. Carr of Boston, until Feb. 12 to respond to the lecturer’s claims.