Vancouver Province

Thursday 28 October 1999

According to Him: Tribunal 'fell for' story, his reputation's soiled

Jim Jamieson, Staff Reporter The Province (Vancouver)

Stuart Davis, The Province / Don Dutton: 'It's a scary decision because this could happen to anybody.'

"Have a seat," Prof. Don Dutton said yesterday, motioning to the modest but famous couch in the living room of his Kits Point home.

"That's where it all happened," said Dutton, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "Or where it's supposed to have happened."

The couch is just another reminder for Dutton and his wife of seven years, Marta Aragones, of the five-year road that hit another curve yesterday when the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled against him and UBC in a sexual-harassment complaint by his former student, Fariba Mahmoodi.

The couch, Mahmoodi told the tribunal, was where the 55-year-old academic -- over glasses of wine in a candlelit room with music playing -- kissed and fondled her while waxing poetic about her beauty. This, Mahmoodi said, was in exchange for help getting her into graduate school.

Dutton denied the allegations but was found to blame for imposing a "sexualized environment."

"It's a scary decision because this could happen to anybody," said Dutton after the tribunal ruled he and UBC must each pay half of a $13,000 award to Mahmoodi.

"The only way you can protect yourself is to distance yourself so much from your students that they're going to be so remote.

"People tell me you shouldn't have a female student in your office with the door closed. I had seven women testify on my behalf. They'd all come over here, they were all students, they'd all worked here. Occasionally, we had dinner together -- it was no big deal."

Dutton believes that the weight given different factors in the case by tribunal member Frances Gordon was unfair.

"We've got a person who's forged a letter to UBC, she's committed welfare fraud, she's threatened other professors with human-rights actions," he said. "She knows how to use systems. She presents herself to B.C. Human Rights as some poor naif who's being manipulated and conned by a Svengali-like male professor, and they fall for it.

"Frances Gordon says, rightfully, that Mahmoodi's credibility is such that she won't accept anything without independent evidence, and then she goes on to do that."

He said he'll ask for a judicial review of the ruling, adding: "It's not about money -- it's about my reputation."