U of M settles harassment claim, will pay student $75K

Anonymous questions about sexual harassment ended the training.
The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault picks up question cards from audience members at a public training on sexual assault and harassment at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in 2017.
Ellen Schmidt | MPR News 2017

The University of Minnesota will pay a Humphrey School graduate student $75,000 and allow her to complete her degree free of tuition to settle a sexual harassment claim as part of an agreement released Friday.

Additional training to avoid harassing behavior is also part of the settlement.

The agreement was announced by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which began an investigation in 2019. It involves allegations from the student that she was sexually harassed by a professor a few years ago. In documents released by agency, officials said there is probable cause that the woman was subjected to a sexually hostile environment. 

The now-former professor, identified by the school as James Ron, had power over the woman’s grades and advancement. The student and research assistant worked with the professor on a project connected to the school’s Human Rights Initiative. She described being subjected to unwanted advancements, including inquiries about her personal life, comments about her appearance and an offer to move into his house. 

Ron resigned from the school in July 2020. He had previously been suspended after the Unviersity’s own investigation into the complaints, but for a time was reinstated. An attempt to get comment from him was unsuccessful. 

In a signed conciliation formalized on Wednesday, the school denied violating the state Human Rights Act. But the agreement notes the settlement avoids further litigation and expense. 

As part of the agreement, the U of M’s public affairs school will provide additional, mandatory harassment training and more regularly distribute information about its policies. 

A statement from the school to students and faculty says multiple steps have been taken already to root out bad behavior.

“I recognize that the announcement generates difficult feelings for all of us, and some members of our community may relive some painful experiences as a result,” interim Humphrey School Dean Catherine Squires said in the message sent Friday morning. “Please reach out to the available resources within our School, the University, or the broader community if you need support or assistance. “

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