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Former Spanish lecturer sues Amherst College, claiming supervisor urged assistants to sleep with students to boost enrollment



Last modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2015
NORTHAMPTON — A former Spanish language lecturer at Amherst College has sued the school and another former teacher, claiming that she lost her job after sticking up for teaching assistants who said they were encouraged to sleep with students to increase enrollment in the department’s classes.

The lawsuit was filed in Hampshire Superior Court this month by Dimaris Barrios-Beltran. The defendants named in the suit are Amherst College and Victoria Maillo, a former lecturer in the Spanish Department who left the college earlier this year.

In the five-count complaint, Barrios-Beltran, an Amherst resident and native of Puerto Rico, alleges she suffered retaliation and discrimination after raising concerns about sexual harassment experienced by teaching assistants in the college’s Spanish department. Barrios-Beltran was hired in 2012, but she failed to win reappointment to her post last year after the college cited a “lack of enrollment” in her classes, according to the lawsuit. She is seeking a jury trial and damages for lost wages, emotional distress, attorney’s fees and other costs.

“I was able to confirm firsthand the allegations that were included in the complaint,” said Sarah A. Ornelas, a Springfield attorney who is representing Barrios-Beltran. “There are a number of people who were able to back them.”

Attempts to reach Maillo through her attorney at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC in Boston were unsuccessful Monday.

In a statement emailed to the Gazette, Amherst College declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. The college did confirm that Maillo’s position had been eliminated as part of a restructuring of the Spanish department, and that she was no longer employed at the college.

Barrios-Beltran is now a visiting Spanish language instructor at Mount Holyoke College.

The complaint alleges that shortly after Barrios-Beltran was hired in 2012, Maillo — her supervisor — told her that “when she was looking for new teacher’s assistants to hire she liked to look them up online and pick ‘pretty faces’ to help attract more people to take Spanish classes.”

The complaint also alleges that a teaching assistant called Barrios-Beltran during the spring 2013 semester, telling her that she felt Maillo was treating her like a “prostitute” by encouraging her and other teaching assistants to attend parties or socials and “sleep with students” to encourage more people to take Spanish classes.

The teaching assistant further told Barrios-Beltran that, in frustration, she had asked Maillo if she wanted her “to sleep with a different guy every night.” The complaint alleges that Maillo responded, “That is what I brought you here for.”

The lawsuit states that Barrios-Beltran spoke with other teaching assistants who confirmed the information and that, “These young (teaching assistants) believed that they were being asked to prostitute themselves to increase enrollment in the Spanish department.”

Barrios-Beltran kept a workplace diary during her time in the Spanish department, according to the lawsuit, which alleges that “nothing was done to change the hostile environment in the Spanish department” despite continuous complaints to Ute Brandes — then Maillo’s supervisor and the department chairwoman — and other college officials, including its Title IX coordinator and human resources director.

Reached by phone Monday, Brandes, of Belchertown, declined to comment on the complaint and directed a reporter’s questions to a college lawyer and the dean of faculty.

In addition to allegations of sexual harassment against teaching assistants, the complaint alleges that Maillo created a hostile work environment that included trying to convince other faculty members that Barrios-Beltran had no control over her students, that her Spanish dialect was “not academic,” and by calling her, her class and students “ghetto,” among other alleged statements.

During a Feb. 10 meeting with Brandes regarding her reappointment, Barrios-Beltran requested a mediator to help work out the situation but was told by Brandes there was no money for a mediator. The complaint also alleges that despite Barrios-Beltran having received a favorable letter in support of her reappointment, Brandes suggested that she not “make waves” during the reappointment process.

Barrios-Beltran was informed March 4 that she was not being reappointed as a Spanish language lecturer.

She turned over a copy of her workplace diary to Title IX Coordinator Laurie A. Frankl and, in April, provided emails and other documentation to Amherst College. She never heard back from any college officials regarding her complaints, according to the lawsuit.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.