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A professor who repeatedly referred to one of his students as Monica Lewinsky may be liable for sexual harassment, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. In Hayut v. State University of New York, the court found that a political science professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz could be held liable under the civil rights provisions of 42 U.S.C. �1983 for nicknaming his student “Monica” and making scandalous references to Ms. Lewinsky’s affair with then-President Bill Clinton. However, because school administrators acted appropriately in addressing the plaintiff’s complaints about the professor’s conduct, Circuit Judges Guido Calabresi and Robert Sack ruled that her claims against the school were properly dismissed. Judge Fred I. Parker, who was also a member of the panel, died in August following argument in the case. The lawsuit was brought by a woman named Inbal Hayut, who enrolled in SUNY New Paltz as a political science major for the 1998-1999 academic year. Hayut alleged that one of her professors, Alex Young, sexually harassed her throughout the fall semester by calling her “Monica” in class, in light of her supposed physical resemblance to Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern who at the time was attaining notoriety for her involvement in a widely covered sex scandal with the president. Young’s conduct was not limited to the “Monica” moniker. He allegedly opened virtually every Tuesday morning class session by asking Hayut, in front of the entire class, “How was your weekend with Bill?” The plaintiff alleged that two other times in class Young told Hayut to “be quiet, Monica. I will give you a cigar later.” Hayut contends that she asked the professor to stop, but he ignored her. The references led other students to mockingly address the student as “Monica” outside the class, according to the decision. “[Ms.] Hayut maintains that the ‘Monica’ comments affected her deeply, humiliating her in front of her peers, causing her to experience difficulty sleeping, and making it difficult for her to concentrate in school and at work,” Calabresi wrote for a unanimous panel. The plaintiff alleged that she barely passed her courses that semester, received failing grades the following term, and, after withdrawing from SUNY New Paltz, had to complete a year of remedial work before she was permitted to matriculate at another school. Hayut sued the state university, Young and several school administrators for violating the Title IX Educational Amendments of 1972 and for depriving her of her federal constitutional rights under �1983. Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in “any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Section 1983 holds state actors liable for depriving an individual of “any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” The defendants moved to dismiss, alleging that while Young’s remarks may have been insensitive or politically incorrect, they did not give rise to actionable sexual harassment. Northern District of New York Judge Howard G. Munson agreed and dismissed the case in its entirety in a July 30, 2002, decision. On review, the 2nd Circuit found that the lower court correctly dismissed the Title IX and �1983 claims against the school and its administrators. Hayut complained to a dean, Richard Varbero, shortly before final exams. Varbero in turn notified another dean and the head of Young’s department. A meeting of various administrators was convened to discuss Young’s conduct and it was decided that his contract entitled him to written notice of the charges before any formal process was initiated. Hayut submitted a written complaint early in the spring semester and the school convened a counseling session with Young, who admitted to having made the remarks as a joke. The school admistrators told him that the matter was being taking seriously and sent him a letter explaining what actions would be taken. A month later, Young, who had been teaching for 30 years, retired. Hayut had no further contact with him at the school. The court found that the steps taken by the school were timely and in accordance with procedure. Since there was no evidence of “deliberate indifference,” the court dismissed the claims against the school and its administrators. But the appellate court restored the claim against Young, finding that Hayut’s allegations, if proven, sufficed to show his conduct created a sexually hostile environment that adversely affected Hayut’s educational experience. As a teacher at a state university, Young was a state actor vested with considerable authority over his students, the panel found. Further, his “Monica” remarks lacked any “legitimate pedagogical purpose that might merit the kind of First Amendment protection that has long been recognized in the academic arena,” the court wrote. The professor’s derogatory comments were pervasive and severe enough to transcend the bounds of propriety and decency, and became actionable harassment, the court found. Hayut’s academic performance also suffered as a result. Accordingly, the court reinstated the claim against Young. William Martin of the Colin Law Office in White Plains appeared for Hayut. Kenneth J. Kelly of Epstein, Becker & Green argued the case for Young. SUNY and its administrators were represented by New York Assistant Solicitor General Andrea Oser.

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