Lawsuit alleges teaching assistants at Amherst College told to sleep with students to increase enrollment

By Mark Chiarelli

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

A lawsuit filed against Amherst College by a former lecturer alleges teaching assistants within the Spanish department were encouraged to attend parties and sleep with students to increase enrollment numbers.

The suit, filed in Hampshire Superior Court by Dimaris Barrios-Beltran earlier this month, claims five counts of employment discrimination and names both Amherst College and Barrios-Beltran’s former supervisor, Victoria Maillo, as defendants. The story was first reported by the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Barrios-Beltran was informed in March by the school that she would not be reappointed to her post as a lecturer due to low enrollment numbers in her classes. She alleges that Maillo discriminated against her in the workplace after she previously brought concerns over a hostile workplace environment to the department chair, and is seeking all available damages that include lost wages, emotional distress, consequential damages and attorney’s fees.

According to a statement to the Gazette, Amherst College declined to comment on the case. Maillo is no longer an employee with the school following a department restructuring. Barrios-Beltran now teaches at Mount Holyoke College.

She is suing Amherst College and Maillo on the grounds of wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation and intentional infliction and emotional distress.

Barrios-Beltran, who was hired at Amherst College in 2012, alleges that Maillo told her she hired teaching assistants with “pretty faces” to encourage more students to take Spanish classes, and that Maillo used inappropriate comments to describe students.

In the spring 2013 semester, Barrios-Beltran received a phone call from a teaching assistant saying that Maillo was treating the TA like a “prostitute.” The TA said Maillo was upset with her for not attending parties at Amherst College and for dating a University of Massachusetts student instead of an Amherst College student, according to the suit.

The suit alleges the TA then asked Maillo out of frustration if she wanted her to sleep with a “different guy every night like another TA was doing,” to which Maillo replied, “That is what I brought you here for.”

Barrios-Beltran confirmed that other TA’s in the Spanish department believed they were being asked to prostitute themselves, according to the suit. Her lawyer, Sarah Ornelas, also confirmed allegations in the complaint, according to the Gazette.

The suit claims that Barrios-Beltran kept a private diary detailing her experiences working within the department. She later met with Ute Brandes, the chair of the Spanish department, about her concerns, but “nothing was done about the hostile work environment” within the department, according to the suit.

Maillo grew hostile and retaliatory toward Barrios-Beltran following her complaints to Brandes, the suit alleges. It also claims that Maillo told other faculty members that Barrios-Beltran had no control over her students and that both she and her students were “ghetto.”

According to the suit, Brandes provided Barrios-Beltran a letter of recommendation for reappointment to her position in February. But when Barrios-Beltran asked for a mediator to work out the situation with Maillo she was told by Brandes the school didn’t have money to pay for one, per the suit.

On March 3, at a Title IX orientation presented to the Spanish department, Barrios-Beltran voiced her concerns to Laurie Frankl, Amherst College’s Title IX coordinator.

Barrios-Beltran, who was working on a short-term contract, was informed the following day that she would not be reappointed, the suit claims.

The suit, which was published by the Washington Post and can be viewed here, claims she never heard back from the college in April after she sent it additional information and documentation. Barrios-Beltran also filed her claims with Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.