March 15, 2011

Court Dismisses Student’s Accusations Against Professor

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The latest chapter in a sexual harassment dispute between a former graduate student and a professor concluded on March 3, when an appeals court dismissed the case of Marita Hyman.

After an initial investigation by the University found that she had harassed Prof. Dayvdd Greenwood, anthropology, Hyman filed a suit in the Tompkins County Courthouse against the University. Hyman alleged that the University had violated its own code of conduct in carrying out the investigation and that Greenwood had, actually, sexually harassed her.

The appeals court denied Hyman’s claim and found that the University was in compliance with its internal policies in both of its decisions.

Initial Contact

The dispute between Greenwood and Hyman began in 2004, when Hyman applied to be a student in Cornell’s Anthropology Department and sought Greenwood’s help in receiving an acceptance into the program. Their e-mail exchanges continued after she was accepted to the program.

In court, the University cited several e-mails between Hyman and Greenwood and argued that her allegation against Greenwood was baseless. In fact, the University said, Hyman had harassed Greenwood.

One e-mail, sent from Hyman to Greenwood and included as evidence, referred to a conversation that Hyman had with her husband, Paul, about Greenwood.

“[Paul and I] spoke Wednesday about this entire situation. Being extraordinary, he listened calmly and suggested a whole variety of reasons that I would be having sexual fantasies. It’s perfectly normal, he said. But when I told him I was communicating specifically with you, there was a long pause,” Hyman’s e-mail to Greenwood said. “Of course Paul was outside my body, not in it, when I was raging for five days after your late-night e-mail in April. He watched me unable to eat when I was hungry, sleep when I was tired, hear when I was trying to listen. He watched me unsatisfied with the love he was giving me. His response at the time was equally extraordinary. But he understand my explosive anger anymore than he understood my body.”

Immediately after this e-mail, Greenwood threatened to take action against Hyman if she continued the “unwanted, inappropriate and unprofessional” e-mails. Hyman apologized for causing department turmoil in a November 2004 dialogue between Hyman and a member of her doctoral committee.

“I do take full responsibility for my actions and realize with pain the measures of disruption they have caused Davydd’s professional life, the department’s sense of ‘whole,’ my own program and relations with everyone,” she wrote in the e-mail.

In an e-mail sent on Nov. 2, 2004, Hyman agreed not to contact Greenwood. Hyman later told the Tompkins County Court that she was coerced by “inappropriate threats” to submit to the agreement.

Greenwood Alleges Hyman Violated No-Contact Agreement

The direct exchanges between Hyman and Greenwood may have ended there, but in 2006, President David Skorton sent an e-mail to the campus community soliciting feedback on Cornell’s Campus Code of Conduct.

Responding to the request, Hyman sent an e-mail to Skorton, copying Greenwood, that claimed that members of the Anthropology Department had made sexual advances toward her, according to the court record.

Greenwood saw this as a violation of Hyman’s agreement to end contact with him. He decided to take legal action within Cornell’s Office of the Judicial Administrator, alleging that Hyman was harassing him.

The University Hearing Board then conducted a seven-hour hearing, during which Greenwood emphasized his repeated attempts to end his communication with Hyman. The hearing concluded that Hyman harassed Greenwood and the board issued a new no-contact order between the two.

Hyman Counters With Her Own Harassment Suit

Hyman then countered Greenwood’s claim with her own petition — accusing Greenwood of harassing her — to Cornell’s Judicial Administrator.

The Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality, which was responsible for investigating the petition made to the J.A. office, threw out Hyman’s sexual harassment claim after issuing a lengthy 30-page investigative report, according to Nelson Roth, Deputy University Counsel.

“WDELQ and the faculty co-investigator found both of Hyman’s charges [of sexual harassment and retaliation] to be unfounded and the sexual harassment claim to be so completely devoid of merit that it was frivolous,” Roth said in an e-mail this week. “Disciplinary action could have been, but was not, taken against Hyman [when she was a student] for filing a frivolous complaint.”

Hyman Takes Case to Court

Hyman then challenged the University’s decisions in the Tompkins County Court, alleging that “in dismissing her complaint under policy 6.4, the University acted arbitrarily and capriciously and in violation of petitioner’s rights under law,” according to the court record.

Hyman also challenged the University’s initial conclusion under the Code of Conduct that she had harassed Greenwood.

However, the court affirmed both of the University’s decisions.

Hyman then took her appeal to the appellate state court. The appellate court also ruled in favor of Greenwood and the University’s finding that Cornell followed its policies on sexual harassment claims.

The case was appealed to the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court, which issued its ruling March 3.

“Contrary to [Hyman’s] arguments, there is no indication that [Cornell] deviated from its procedures, and its determination is amply supported by the evidence,” the court’s ruling states.

The ruling also states that the University’s hearing board “provided clear and convincing evidence” that Hyman had harassed Greenwood.

Hyman’s legal counsel for the course of the appeals, John Valentino, declined to comment on the suit because he is no longer Hyman’s legal representative, he said. Hyman did not respond to any requests for comment.

“[The court] explicitly concluded that Ms. Hyman harassed Prof. Greenwood (not the other way around as she alleged), that the University followed its procedures, that the evidence fully supported the University’s findings, and that Ms. Hyman’s claims in court were contradicted by the actual record before the court,” Roth, who represented Greenwood, said via e-mail.

Original Author: Kayla DeLeon