University of New England Accused of Civil Rights Violation in Sexual Harassment Case


York County Court, Credit York Bar Association

Shannon Cardinal, Advising Editor

Dr. Lara Carlson filed a lawsuit February 16th against the University of New England, asserting UNE violated her civil rights by failing to respond adequately to her complaints of sexual harassment by a colleague.

According to court documents, Dr. Carlson claims that she “properly and promptly” notified the UNE Human Resource Department in September of 2012 that her supervisor, Exercise and Sport (ESP) Department Chair Paul Visich, allegedly sent her sexually charged emails, made unwanted sexual comments and touched her inappropriately.

In response to her complaints Carlson alleges she faced retaliation from Dr. Visich and the administration. Visich is accused of providing an inaccurate, negative performance evaluation which impacted her merit raise, and forcing her removal from the ESP Department website, inhibiting Carlson’s research and grant opportunities. She accuses the administration of “removing her from the ESP Department,” “removing her from the classes she was hired for and most qualified to teach,” “removing her from the NEASCSM Bowl team she created at UNE” and providing a minimal merit raise in spite of her achievements. These actions led her to file a complaint for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation in violation of the Maine Human Rights Act.

UNE denies these allegations and claims the “Plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of the corrective opportunities provided by UNE or otherwise failed to avoid harm.”

The court documents state that Carlson met with Dean Elizabeth Francis-Connolly and Sharen Beaulieu, HR Director and Title IX Coordinator, in January of 2014 to request a surrogate chair, a move which would replace Visich as her supervisor.

Though the University denies that Dean Francis-Connolly recommended removing Dr. Carlson instead, in March of 2014 the Dean appointed herself Carlson’s supervisor and removed her from the ESP department. Carlson is not listed as faculty in any department on the UNE website, and she is only affiliated with the Neuroscience Department as a research appointment. Administrators claim she is part of the Physical Therapy Department. Her profile is searchable on the UNE website, but as of March 30th it does not appear in the “People” pages of any ESP majors or minors, or under PT.

When reached for comment, Patricia Peard, the University’s legal counsel, was hesitant to speak with Nor’easter News, stating “the University’s decision is really simple-we don’t litigate cases in the press.”

She did comment “when the facts come out… it will be clear that the University treated Lara Carlson very professionally and did not in any way violate her civil rights.” Carlson’s attorney, David Kreisler, was unavailable.

The case will be ready for trial in December of 2016. Because this is a civil case, the trial will be settled by either dismissal or a monetary award to the party that the ruling favors. The burden of proof (responsibility for proving the veracity of her claims) is on Carlson and her attorney.