Vancouver Province

Thursday 28 October 1999

The amorous prof and the student

A crackling fire, a glass of wine, soft music. A professor and a graduate student, together. Now, five years later, B.C.'s Human Rights Tribunal has ruled it was a case of sexual harassment.

Jason Proctor and Jim Jamieson, Staff Reporters The Province (Vancouver)

Fariba Mahmoodi in 1998.

More than a year after hearing the last piece of evidence in a controversial case against University of B.C. professor Don Dutton, a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal yesterday awarded $13,000 to a student who claimed she was sexually harassed by the high-profile psychologist.

Attempting to steer clear of the he-said, she-said mudslinging nature of the case, tribunal member Frances Gordon said she found serious credibility problems in testimony offered by both Dutton and complainant Fariba Mahmoodi.

"I find that Dutton's sole aim was gratification of his own personal and sexual interests in Mahmoodi," Gordon writes in the 85-page decision.

"Dutton created and controlled a sexualized environment which failed to acknowledge the normal professional boundaries between a professor and a student. He also failed to appreciate a professor's position of trust in relation to his student and a student's vulnerability vis-a-vis a professor. In doing so, he engaged in sexual conduct in relation to Mahmoodi."

The tribunal also found the university liable for half of the damages. A UBC spokesman said that, while the decision was in line with the university's own censure of Dutton, the ruling is out of step with laws on liability.

The case revolves around two meetings between Dutton and Mahmoodi in December 1994 and January 1995.

A student anxious to attend graduate school, Mahmoodi said Dutton asked her over to his Kitsilano home to discuss a research project. When she arrived, she was greeted with wine, candles, a crackling fire and "sensuous" music.

Mahmoodi claimed the professor made sexually charged comments and fondled her.

Dutton, who spent $100,000 on his defence, lashed out yesterday at the tribunal.

"I was completely stunned," said Dutton. "This shows how totally politicized B.C. Human Rights is. For them to masquerade as a quasi-judicial group that gives some kind of legal imprimatur to what are political decisions is a farce."

Dutton, 55, said he'll ask for a judicial review of the decision.

Fariba Mahmoodi wasn't talking yesterday, but her lawyer said the 37-year-old Iranian refugee was pleased with the decision, although disappointed at the size of the award.

Clea Parfitt said her client has had her personal life put on trial, while Dutton has been treated like a hero fighting political correctness.

"It's hard for women to be believed. And this case was established in its major elements," said Parfitt. "[Mahmoodi's] reputation has been largely tarnished in the process."