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Court: Prof Who Had Sex With Students Must Be Reinstated

Bloomsburg University's John Barrett found not to have violated school policy
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 22, 2019 10:15 AM CDT
Bloomsburg University faculty members picket on campus in Bloomsburg, Pa., on Oct. 19, 2016.   (Bill Hughes/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP)

(Newser) – A Pennsylvania appeals court has ruled a fired university professor who had sex with two students should be reinstated because he didn't break school rules. The Commonwealth Court upheld a June 2018 decision by an arbitrator to reinstate Bloomsburg University assistant professor John Barrett with full benefits and back pay since no university policy prohibited consensual sexual relationships between instructors and students not enrolled in their classes, reports Penn Live. Barrett was fired in June 2017 for "lack of professional judgment" and violations of the school's sexual harassment policy after a female student described an eight-month sexual relationship. The woman, who came forward after learning Barrett had sex with another student, said the relationship began months after she took one of Barrett's classes in the spring of 2015.

But though the woman said the relationship that developed over coffee was consensual, she also said she'd awoken multiple times to find Barrett touching her genitals, reports Newsweek. University officials claimed the arbitrator's decision—which acknowledged "inherently exploitative" behavior—undermined the school's sexual harassment policy in seeking to overturn it. However, Judge P. Kevin Brobson denied that the fondling constituted sexual harassment in the context of a consensual sexual relationship. He stressed Barrett's denial and said the woman admitted she never told him it made her uncomfortable. Brobson did acknowledge the university was right on one count, though. "We are in no way ignoring [Barrett's] appalling lack of judgment, especially as one who once held a position of trust," he wrote, per Newsweek. (Harvard frowns on professor-student relationships.)

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