Labor and Employment

UNM Sued By 2nd Prof Re Controversial 'Dominatrix' English Dept. Colleague

A tenured English professor who reportedly maintained an online persona as a dominatrix, posing with current and former graduate students, and admittedly supplemented her salary by working for a sex line for $40/hour was a matter outside the University of New Mexico’s proper purview, a spokeswoman says.

But an ongoing outcry over the situation has enmeshed the university in civil litigation by two other women in the department who say they suffered retaliation, especially after they became pregnant, when they complained about the problems their colleague was creating for students, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican and an earlier article in the Daily Lobo.

Sharon Oard Warner, who formerly directed the English department’s creative writing program, contended in a lawsuit last fall that she was denied a promotion due to her efforts to force the university to conduct a full investigation and enforce its policies concerning what she describes as sexual harassment and ethics issues related to her colleague, Lisa Chavez. Her husband also joined in the suit, alleging that his pay was cut in retaliation for his wife’s role.

And now poetry professor Diane Thiel says she, too, suffered the consequences for expressing concern about Chavez’ alleged boundary-violating conduct toward graduate students and was ridiculed for becoming pregnant, the New Mexican recounts.

Thiel is seeking unspecified damages and has asserted claims for breach of implied contract; violation of a state whistle-blower statute; retaliation prohibited by the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act; and discrimination and retaliation due to her pregnancy.

Warner, the Daily Lobo says, sued for breach of implied contract; breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and retaliation.

A university spokeswoman, Susan McKinsey, declined to comment specifically on the pending litigation. However, the suits, she told the New Mexican, concern a disagreement over the university’s determination that a tenured faculty member should not be terminated for conduct that occurs off-campus.

“A thorough, independent investigation … by outside counsel in 2008 concluded that it didn’t involve any violation of the law or university policy,” McKinsey says of Chavez’ controversial conduct.

Additional coverage:

Daily Lobo (Nov. 2008): “English professor resigns over administration’s actions”

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