Trouble on Campus
Former SMU employee accuses human rights professor of sexually harassing students
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on April 9, a former SMU professor claims the university violated the Civil Rights Act and Title IX when it terminated her employment after she lodged a sexual harassment complaints against her male supervisor.
Patricia Davis was fired from SMU in 2012, an action she alleges was in retaliation for calling out the unethical actions of Embrey Human Rights Program director Rick Halperin.
Davis, who had worked at SMU for more than 20 years, became the associate director the human rights program in 2006.
Rick Halperin allegedly confided in Patricia Davis about several lewd recreational activities, such as "running around his neighborhood naked."
The suit cites many incidents of alleged impropriety between Halperin and female students, including a 2006 office meeting when Davis saw a co-ed "kneeling behind Halperin's desk with him." Davis says the student "jumped up" and ran out of the office in embarrassment.
Davis says that Halperin confided in her about several lewd recreational activities such as peeping in windows and "running around his neighborhood naked."
In yet another bizarre twist, the suit also claims Halperin has a Nazi obsession, "privately giving Nazi salutes, screaming 'achtung' on the telephone, displaying huge posters of Nazi symbols and events in his office, and watching hours and hours of pictures of bodies and Holocaust death camps on his office television."
Although disturbed by Halperin's proclivities as far back as 2006, Davis says she put it out of her mind in light of the human rights program's success. But when the program moved to a new suite n 2010, Halperin's behavior came under fresh scrutiny.
Davis says that Halperin regularly met with female students behind closed doors on the weekends, after hours and during holidays. This reportedly prompted the program to institute a rule against such meetings with students, which Halperin refused to follow.
Due to the proximity of their offices, Davis says she could hear Halperin engage in "probing" conversations with female students about his sex life and relationships. Davis reportedly confronted Halperin about his behavior, and he agreed it was inappropriate.
But in 2011, Davis once again stumbled upon Halperin and a co-ed in an amorous situation. The lawsuit says Davis was retrieving her cellphone from her office one night in October 2011 when she found Halperin and a female student "embracing" behind a door she had just unlocked.
The couple was "red in the face" and the student's hair "was in disarray." Unprompted, the student announced she was in Halperin's office to pick up her paper and promptly grabbed her backpack before leaving.
When Davis confronted Halperin about the situation the next morning, he allegedly told her she was "crazy," "deeply in need of help" and "should begin looking for another job."
Instead of updating her résumé, Davis says she reported Halperin to SMU associate provost Linda Eads. No follow-up action was taken after this complaint, though Halperin allegedly began working to discredit Davis and have her fired.
In April 2012, Davis brought her concerns to William Tsutsui, dean of the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. Tsutsui allegedly told Halperin "to keep his door open at all times because when people think of SMU, they think of three people: President Turner, June Jones and Rick Halperin."
Davis continued to report Halperin's misconduct up the chain of command, eventually going to Beth Wilson, the SMU's Title XI coordinator, and president Gerald Turner. But neither official took action. Turner reportedly expressed concern but said "he would not intervene," while Wilson claimed she "found no evidence of Halperin's improper conduct."
Davis was fired the day after she appealed Wilson's decision with the Faculty Senate.
The lawsuit also addresses gender discrimination as a whole at the university, noting "gross inequities between men's and women's sports programs" and that female professors on average earn between $6,500 and $10,400 less than their male counterparts.