College workplace discrimination case proceeds

Judge denies dismissal in workplace discrimination case

Staff Writer
Thursday, May 19, 2016

SPRINGFIELD — A workplace discrimination lawsuit against Amherst College and one of its former instructors will move forward in federal court after a judge this week denied a motion to dismiss the case.

The complaint was initially filed in Hampshire Superior Court in December by Dimaris Barrios-Beltran, a former Spanish language lecturer, who alleges she lost her job after supporting teaching assistants who said they were encouraged to sleep with students to increase enrollment in the department’s classes. 

Victoria Maillo, a former lecturer in the Spanish Department, and Amherst College are named as defendants in the case which alleges workplace discrimination and retaliation. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Mastroianni allowed the case to proceed after Maillo’s attorney, Peter F. Carr II, filed a motion to dismiss the case. 

Carr argued in court Tuesday that Barrios-Beltran’s claims do not meet the legal bar for relief in court and that Maillo and Beltran were at odds in the workplace. 

“Really what it came down to is there was a personality conflict and dislike on either side,” Carr said in a phone interview Friday. “It’s one of the arguments I made.” 

Citing case precedent, Mastroianni ruled that, “it is not what the plaintiff (Barrios-Beltran) is required ultimately to prove in order to prevail on her claim, but rather what she is required to plead in order to be permitted to develop her case for eventual adjudication on the merits.” 

“It’s disappointing but not surprising because the standard is very low,” Carr, of Boston, said of the decision. “Now we go forward with the case and defend.” 

The complaint alleges that shortly after Barrios-Beltran was hired, Maillo, who was her supervisor, told her that “when she was looking for new teacher’s assistants to hire she liked to look them up online and pick ‘pretty faces’ to help attract more people to take Spanish classes.”

The complaint alleges that a teaching assistant called Barrios-Beltran during the spring 2013 semester, telling her she felt Maillo was treating her like a “prostitute” by encouraging her and other teaching assistants to attend parties or socials and “sleep with students” to encourage more people to take Spanish classes.

She further told Barrios-Beltran that, in frustration, she had asked Maillo if she wanted her “to sleep with a different guy every night.” The complaint alleges that Maillo responded, “That is what I brought you here for.”

The lawsuit also states Barrios-Beltran spoke with other teaching assistants who confirmed the information and that, “These young (teaching assistants) believed that they were being asked to prostitute themselves to increase enrollment in the Spanish department.”

In addition to allegations of sexual harassment, the complaint alleges Maillo created a hostile work environment that included trying to convince other faculty members that Barrios-Beltran, who is Puerto Rican, had no control over her students, that her Spanish dialect was “not academic,” and by calling her, her class and students “ghetto.”

Barrios-Beltran kept a workplace diary, according to the lawsuit, which alleges that “nothing was done to change the hostile environment in the Spanish department” despite continuous complaints to Amherst College employees, including its Title IX coordinator and human resources director.

Amherst College confirmed in December that Maillo’s position had been eliminated as part of a restructuring of the Spanish Department, but declined to comment on any ongoing litigation. Barrios-Beltran has since taken a job as a visiting Spanish instructor at Mount Holyoke College.

“We’re proceeding to the discovery phase, which is the next step in the litigation,” said Springfield attorney Sarah A. Ornelas, who is representing Barrios-Beltran. 

Staff writer Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.