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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lawsuits filed over professor posing on sex site

Suit claims UNM improperly handled sexual harassment investigation

Two professors have filed lawsuits against the University in yet another chapter of the story that has plagued the creative writing program since associate professor Lisa Chavez posed with students on a sadomasochistic Web site.

The professors, Teddy and Sharon Warner, who are married, claim University administrators retaliated against them because Sharon has continued to speak out against the University’s handling of the incident.

“One of the main reasons I decided to file a lawsuit was that there really didn’t seem to be any other way to get UNM administrators to listen to the very serious issues that my colleagues and a number of students have raised regarding both the (administration’s) behavior and Lisa Chavez’s,” Sharon said.

But Chavez said administrators have already taken care of the situation.

“The University investigated this very thoroughly, and this all should be over by now,” she said in an e-mail to the Daily Lobo.

Sharon Warner is an English professor, and she was director of the creative writing program when the photos of Chavez with her students were discovered. Sharon Warner filed her lawsuit Sept. 26, seeking damages for breaches of implied contract, covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and retaliation.

Teddy Warner, a professor at UNM Health Sciences Center, filed his lawsuit Tuesday. In it, he claims the University cut his pay by 20 percent because of spousal affiliated retaliation.

Teddy Warner was not available for comment.

Sharon Warner said the University cut her husband’s pay because she wouldn’t stay quiet about University administrators failing to complete a proper sexual harassment and ethics investigation into Chavez’s activities.

Carrie Moritomo, spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, said the Human Rights Bureau investigated Teddy Warner’s claim and determined a probable cause for complaint on July 17. Moritomo said the bureau inspected information provided by Teddy and the University.

University spokeswoman Susan McKinsey said the University couldn’t comment on pending litigations or on details of the complaint in the lawsuit. However, McKinsey said the University has followed protocol in regard to the Chavez situation.

“We do want to say that from first awareness of the allegations in question, the University has treated this matter seriously and has devoted extraordinary time and resources to its investigation, exhaustive review and resolution, including the hiring of both an independent investigator and an outside facilitator, and a thorough review through the levels of upper administration,” she said in an e-mail to the Daily Lobo.

How it all got started:

An anonymous letter about Chavez’s activities with a sex-for-pay organization — signed by “appalled parents” — was sent to then English department chairman David Jones. According to the lawsuit, the letter stated Chavez was “putting herself in the public eye on the Internet by offering sexual conversation and private rendezvous for money.”

Sharon Warner was ordered to check the Web site peplove.com to see if the allegations were true, and if Chavez appeared with graduate students in the pictures. Sharon Warner found Chavez posing as Mistress Jade with one former graduate student and two graduate students who were in the program at the time. Chavez posed as a dominatrix professor disciplining her misbehaving students.

“From the time that I looked at that Web site until now, my whole life has been turned upside down,” Sharon Warner said. “All I did was what my department chair asked me to do.”

Nancy Ava Miller, who runs the People Exchanging Power phone-sex organization, said the pictures on the Web site were posed and Chavez didn’t have a sexual or romantic relationship with the graduate students.

“When you read about it, it sounds as if there was an older person taking advantage of maybe an underage child, but the graduate student in question was an older, married woman and a dear friend of Professor Chavez’s,” she said.

Sharon Warner said Jones reluctantly submitted an e-mail requesting a sexual harassment investigation to UNM’s Office of Equal Opportunity after he learned about the pictures.

Jones declined to comment.

Miller said Chavez quit her job at People Exchanging Power, though she’d worked there less than a year, shortly after the situation arose at the University.

Sharon said the University stopped the OEO investigation and hired an independent investigator to look into the matter.

Attorney Beth German, who conducted the independent University investigation, declined to comment.

Sharon Warner said the investigation was not about Chavez’s activities with students, but about how Sharon Warner had fabricated the accusations, her behavior and the alleged pictures. Sharon Warner gave the investigator a copy of the pictures, which had been removed from the Web site, to prove she wasn’t lying. Sharon said the investigator then closed the investigation and said there were no instances of sexual harassment, a hostile learning environment or illegalities in the case.

“They just basically wanted everybody to shut up about it and not say anything,” Sharon Warner said. “So much damage was done to so many students and to faculty members by this enforced silence and by never really looking at what happened.”
Sharon Warner said she later resigned as director of the creative writing program.
This case and the pending litigation against head football coach Mike Locksley for a physical altercation with former wide receivers coach J.B. Gerald parallel in the way the University handled them, Sharon Warner said.

“The similarities to the Locksley case are really quite striking, because in both cases somebody abused their power relationship,” she said. “Then the University pretended to do an investigation and the truth didn’t come out but they just said, ‘We’ve investigated; here are our findings; now go back to work.’”

Sharon said she would like to see the University do a proper investigation into Chavez’s actions with students.

“I would really like if the University would uphold its own policies,” she said. “I want to make it hard for them to mistreat somebody else the way they’ve mistreated me and students and to bring this out into the open, because this University needs to uphold its sexual harassment policy and it doesn’t. It doesn’t protect students at all.”

Miller said no harm was done to students through Chavez’s actions, but she can understand why Sharon Warner feels compelled to file a lawsuit.

“It’s clear when I read the lawsuit that this is not just something (Sharon Warner) is doing to get money,” she said. “She strongly feels that she needs to do this to protect the school and herself and the students, and she feels that the students have been somehow harmed by the situation, but I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think anyone’s been harmed.”