A former Reed College student says he had a sexual relationship with his professor and that the school wasn't accommodating enough to him after his mental health allegedly deteriorated because of the professor's subsequent "rejection of him as a lover" and "rejection" of his work for her as a research assistant.
The school denies the former student's rights were violated.
Andrew Choi filed a federal lawsuit last Friday against Reed and Assistant Professor of Political Science Mariela Szwarcberg Daby, who was also his thesis advisor.
"This is a teacher-on-student sexual harassment and disability discrimination case brought pursuant to Title IX"—which bars discrimination based on sex in educational programs that receive federal funds and also dictates schools must consider accommodations for students with disabilities—"and Oregon common law sounding in breach of contract and negligence," Choi's lawsuit says.
The former student—who, according to the suit, left school in early 2014 after not finishing his thesis on time—alleges Reed created a "hostile school environment" because of sexual harassment by Szwarcberg Daby, discriminated against him by not accommodating his ADHD and depression during the time he was working on his thesis, breached a contract, and was negligent in supervision. He accuses Szwarcberg Daby of both breach of contract and "conversion" for not crediting him in some of her research papers he helped on. He says he filed a complaint with the school in 2015.
Reed spokesperson Kevin Myers, in a statement to the Mercury, says the school "believes that the student's rights were not violated in any respect," and, while not referencing this case specifically, that "when complaints or concerns come to Reed's attention they are investigated and addressed diligently and thoughtfully." Myers said the school couldn't comment more on this case because of student privacy laws. Szwarcberg Daby did not respond to the Mercury's request for comment made earlier today by the time this was published. Choi's Portland-based attorney, Kevin Brague, referred questions about the case to Choi's New York-based attorney (Choi now lives in New York), Daniela Nanau, who has not yet responded to the Mercury.
Szwarcberg Daby came to the school in 2012 when Choi was a junior political science major. The lawsuit says Choi signed up for her class, began "tutoring" her in English (she's a native Spanish speaker), and became a research assistant for her that fall. The suit says the student and professor started having sex that fall—the first time after a "potluck party" for students at her apartment downtown.
"Choi stayed later than the other students because he wanted to help Szwarcberg Daby clean up after the party," the lawsuit says. "That evening, after they cleaned up her building's common area where the party had been held, Szwarcberg Daby invited Choi to her apartment and they had sex for the first time."
The suit says Choi continued working as a research assistant for her and the two applied for and received grants together while continuing a sexual relationship that school year (It should be noted here that Reed's policies didn't explicitly ban sex between professors and students until September 2013. At the time it happened, policy said it was just "inappropriate" and it was simply strongly discouraged. The new rules unambiguously state it is "a violation of this policy for faculty and staff to have to have romantic or sexual relationships with students"). She became his senior thesis advisor and, it says, she chastised him for not working hard enough as her research assistant when the new school year started.
In the Fall of 2013, the suit says, "Szwarcberg Daby told Choi several times, 'I am your advisor' and 'let's keep it professional from now on.'" The change in their dynamic—the professor being harder on him and severing an alleged sexual relationship—messed with his head, apparantly:
Szwarcberg Daby's rejection of Plaintiff's work, which he had spent significant time and energy developing for her, and her consequent rejection of him as a lover, caused Choi to experience depression and anxiety, and other physical ailments caused by the depression and anxiety, from which he has not fully recovered from to date.
After Szwarcberg Daby abruptly ended their sexual relationship, she failed to diligently work with Plaintiff as a thesis advisor, such as by avoiding regular thesis meetings with him, and even when meetings were scheduled, she would often fail to attend them.
Choi's computer then crashed, it says, apparantly losing most of his thesis draft due that October. He got pneumonia. He had "crushing depression." He got terrible nosebleeds requiring him to miss class and his oral defense of thesis. And so on, and so on. He didn't finish his thesis in time to graduate in 2013 and left school that winter. He says faculty didn't accommodate his depression, ADHD, other health issues by giving him more time to finish his thesis.
"Believing he had no recourse other than to further indebt himself and his parents to engage in a process at Reed that might not ever result in his undergraduate degree, Choi left Portland and moved to New York City without his degree."
His attorneys are asking a for jury trial for the four counts against the school and two accounts against the professor.