Susan Byrne, a former professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Department, has filed a lawsuit claiming that she faced sexual harassment and bullying from professors in the department and was denied tenure for speaking out against it.

The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, claims that the department perpetuated a culture of harassment and discrimination. It levels multiple allegations against Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria GRD ’70, a professor of Hispanic and comparative literatures, claiming he repeatedly made crude comments to and about female professors in the department, played with the hair of undergraduate and graduate students and “surprised” Byrne with a kiss on the mouth in front of hundreds of colleagues at a 2014 party.

The Spanish and Portuguese Department has faced repeated allegations of sexual misconduct and misuse of power over the last three years. The University’s spring 2015 climate review, which concluded in December of that year, led to a series of changes in both leadership and organization.

According to the lawsuit, Echevarria, department chair Rolena Adorno and department professor Noel Valis made “unsupportive and negative” statements to Byrne about her work between October 2014 and February 2015 “in retaliation for plaintiff’s speaking out against discrimination and harassment and to deny plaintiff a full-year sabbatical awarded under Yale University’s tenure-track system to all associate professors on term.”

Byrne was denied tenure in 2015 and terminated from Yale on June 30 following months of appeals, per the lawsuit.

She claims that her going public about the department’s “discriminatory practices in tenure cases” in February 2015 at a University forum attended by faculty members and administrators resulted in her being “cast out as a victim.”

“Defendant acted with reckless disregard for Plaintiff’s right to be free of retaliation for her speech related to sexual harassment and discrimination involving members of the Department and students under the care and supervision of the Department,” the lawsuit reads.

University spokesman Tom Conroy declined to comment on the suit.

Byrne had been at the University since 2008, underwent tenure review in 2015 and learned she had been denied in early 2016, a decision she twice appealed through the Provost’s Office. The vote to deny Byrne tenure was 3-2. Despite a request for the administration to recuse Echevarria, Adorno and Valis from the vote, they were allowed to participate and each voted against granting Byrne tenure.

The three professors involved have since been removed from their leadership positions within the department.

“They had an excellent scholar, someone who was top notch in her field and declared so by the same people who, after she came out and provided information about the harassment going on, decided that the very same work they said was excellent was not good enough,” said Jacques Parenteau, Byrne’s attorney. “You don’t have to go to Yale to figure out this is retaliation.”

The lawsuit alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, and seeks Byrne’s reinstatement as associate professor with tenure and punitive damages.

Parenteau said that per state proceedings, Byrne filed her claim in the summer of 2016 and it that has remained pending at the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities for a year, adding that the University could have offered her the available “remedy” — an apology and reinstatement with tenure — during that period.

A trial will not occur for at least a year, Parenteau said, as federal court cases typically do not go to trial for 18 months.

Byrne — who was granted her request for an unpaid leave of absence for the 2016–17 academic year and permission to hold a position at another university during that time — joined the faculty at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2016, according to its Department of World Languages and Cultures website.

She is represented by attorneys from Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau, a New London-based firm that specializes in employment and benefit law.

After two years of limited or no enrollment, at least five graduate students will be joining the Spanish and Portuguese department this fall.

  • Hieronymus Machine

    Yes, but what does GESO think?!

  • ACPD

    Yale University is committed to sexism. It has protected those who have harassed, assaulted and retaliated against women forever. On the very rare occasion, when it does acknowledge misdeeds, it does so in ways that make it clear that it cares more about its reputation and denying its anti-woman habits than it does on insisting that women’s rights are protected and women are made to feel valued and safe at Yale. There are many, many women who have stood up to Yale and its anti-women bias; but most have had been defamed or financial destroyed in the process. Yes, there are and have been women in positions of authority at Yale, but none of them is a feminist–willing to fight for equality for all women. Instead all have been willing to sacrifice other women’s careers in the service of their own job security and self-promotion….

    • Lumi Sencion

      You speak the truth

  • GD Klein

    A thorough review of the entire department, its decision making practices, and its failure to attract graduate students for one or two years is truly called for. Also of concern, how does the cultural heritage of the Spanish people play a part in the allegations?

    • Yale Club of Spain

      GD Klein, none of the 3 faculty involved is Spanish, ie from Spain, and two are women. Your concern over the ‘cultural heritage of the Spanish people’ merely shows your xenophobia and your utter ignorance, which should concern you more.

  • Lumi Sencion

    Start with Human Resources. The whole lot of them should be fired. They turn a blind eye and encourage administrators to do the same. HR, especially the top layers but throughout, is incompetent and treacherous. HR at Yale is the worst of the worse and no one wants to do anything about this, although many complaints have been lodged.

  • CentralJerseyMom

    I don’t know. White woman vs male Hispanic. I’d say the victim valences cancel each other out.

  • Boos

    I spent four years working in Yale administration. It has to be the most bitter employment experience I’ve ever had. Managers who have been in the system for donkey years essentially get a free pass to bully and HR does nothing about this. I had complained to the diversity office and they are a bunch of dummies as well. I am going to publish my experience at Yale to account for the unacceptable level of bullying behavior that upper management and HR are fully complicit