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Queen's University
 

Dutton

What is the appropriate discipline for professors who sexually harass, or have undisclosed dual relationships with, students ?

Facts

In the fall of 1994, Fariba Mahmoody registered for a year-long course in applied psychology with Dr. Donald Dutton of U.B.C. In December, Dutton invited Mahmoody to his home to discuss the possibility of her participation in one of his research projects. In January, he invited her back to discuss her application to graduate school and to persuade her to do a directed studies course with him.  When Dutton withdrew his academic support several months later,  Mahmoody filed a complaint of sexual harassment against him based on what occurred during those two visits.   A B.C. tribunal found that both Dutton and Mahmoody lacked credibility. It refused to consider any evidence that was not corroborated. The case centered almost entirely around one piece of evidence: an audio-tape of music that Dutton had prepared for Mahmoody over the course of the two evenings, and which had recorded fragments of their conversation. Based on this tape, the Tribunal found that Dutton had sexually harassed  Mahmoody. The Supreme Court of Canada rejected Dutton's appeal, upheld the decision of the Tribunal and supported the remedy suggested by the Tribunal. The university had to pay Mahmoody $4000 as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect, $3200 for lost wages,  as well as the cost of her tuition and books for the directed studies course.  The professor was ordered to cease his illegal conduct.   (Dutton v British Columbia (Human Rights Tribunal) (2001), 41 C.H.R.R. D/10, 2001 BCSC 1256.)

Legal Questions

  1. Was there a legitimate reason for conducting the academic-related meeting at the professor's house ?
  2. Did the professor create and control a sexualized environment ?
  3. Was the sexual attention welcome ?

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal Ruling

  1. No
  2. Yes
  3. No

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal Reasoning

  1. There was a legitimate professional reason for conducting the first meeting at his house (he was working from home on the OJ Simpson case) but no such reason for the holding the second there.
  2. Dutton created and controlled a sexualized environment when he dimmed the lights, served dinner and wine by candlelight, played seductive music, offered her a gift (a recording of the music) and stoked a blazing fire. The conversation recorded on the tape was predominantly social, and included comments about his un-met sexual needs, her resemblance to a former lover, and his willingness to help her get into graduate school despite her bad academic record. This behaviour is consistent with courting rituals, and a reasonable person should have known this. The promise of academic support in return for sexual favours is clearly a sexual abuse of power.
  3. Two remarks made by the professor asking if he had "scared" Mahmoody indicate his awareness that his comments were making her uncomfortable and were therefore unwelcome.

 

 

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000