Teaching assistants at Amherst College were encouraged to sleep with and socialize with students to boost enrollment in the Spanish department, according to a lawsuit filed by a former faculty member.
Dimaris Barrios-Beltran, a former lecturer in the Spanish department at Amherst, claimed discrimination, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful termination in a lawsuit against Amherst and her former supervisor, Victoria Maillo. The suit describes her as becoming concerned soon after she was hired in 2012, which is when Barrios-Beltran claims Maillo told her she liked to find “pretty faces” online to hire as teaching assistants in order to attract more students to Spanish classes and spoke disparagingly about some students and Barrios-Beltran’s Puerto Rican accent.
Early in 2013, Barrios-Beltran’s teaching assistant called her in tears, according to the lawsuit, saying that Maillo was treating her like a prostitute. The teaching assistant claimed that Maillo was angry that she was dating a student at the University of Massachusetts and told her and other teaching assistants to go to parties with students and sleep with them to encourage them to take Spanish. Barrios-Beltran claims that in frustration, the teaching assistant asked Maillo if she wanted her to sleep with a different guy every night like another teaching assistant was doing, and the teaching assistant told Barrios-Beltran that Maillo responded, “that is what I brought you here for.”
Barrios-Beltran spoke with other teaching assistants in the department who confirmed this, according to the lawsuit: “These young T.A.s believed they were being asked to prostitute themselves in order to increase enrollment in the Spanish Department.”
Peter Mackey, a spokesperson for Amherst said there was little he could say because of the active litigation, but he sent this statement by email: “In March 2015, following a careful assessment of enrollments in the Spanish Department, the College decided that it would not renew Ms. Barrios-Beltran’s short-term contract when it expired June 30, 2015.
“This decision was made with no knowledge of the allegations Ms. Barrios-Beltran now raises, and which she brought forward only after she was told that her short-term contract would not be renewed. The College’s decision was based solely on declining enrollments, and any claims otherwise are not based in fact. The College is confident that the court, upon reviewing the facts of this matter, will reach the same conclusion.”
Maillo’s lawyer declined to comment because of the pending litigation and said Maillo would not be able to discuss the case.
Sarah A. Ornelas, one of the lawyers representing Barrios-Beltran, said several people supported her claims. “When you have allegations of these sorts I want to speak to all the witnesses before I go and lodge such a complaint. I did even more background investigating on my own.
“It is incredible what was going on over there.”
Amherst, a small private, highly selective liberal-arts college in western Massachusetts, has not yet filed a legal response to Barrios-Beltran’s lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Massachusetts and first reported by the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Barrios-Beltran is now a Spanish lecturer at Mount Holyoke College, according to one of her lawyers.
Through Ornelas, Barrios-Beltran declined to comment at this time.
Maillo is also no longer working at Amherst, according to Ornelas.
Ornelas said the teaching assistants have returned to Spain, their native country, and are hesitant to speak publicly now, but they are willing to serve as witnesses if the case goes to trial.
According to the lawsuit, after speaking with the teaching assistants Barrios-Beltran complained to the chair of the department the following day, and then Maillo’s behavior to her became “hostile and retaliatory.” She continued to complain about Maillo’s comments, which she found inappropriate, about Jewish people, Puerto Ricans and people with disabilities, and about some of the content Maillo chose for class, such as a radio program about how watching pornography would help your sex life.
A complaint was jointly filed in May with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
Barrios-Beltran contends in her lawsuit, filed earlier this month, that Amherst College did not respond to her repeated complaints despite meetings with a dean, a Title IX coordinator and the human resources department.
In March Barrios-Beltran was informed she would not be reappointed. The reason given, according to her lawsuit, was low enrollment in her classes.