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Suit accuses professor of sexual harassment

A former student says the Stetson law instructor made unwanted overtures to her.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published October 2, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - The professor invited the third-year law student to the lobby of the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa on St. Pete Beach last year to interview for a job as a research assistant.

Stetson University College of Law professor William McKinley Smiley Jr. didn't talk about job qualifications, a lawsuit says.

Instead, the suit says, he asked Michelle Santamaria about her boyfriends. He called her attractive. He asked her to go with him to the Bahamas for a legal seminar.

Smiley finally offered her the job. But the job, Santamaria alleges, had one requirement: sex.

That scene and those allegations, vigorously denied by Smiley's attorney, are described in the sexual harassment suit filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court. The suit also names Stetson as a defendant, saying the school did nothing after a complaint by Santamaria.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, also said Stetson failed to take action to stop Smiley, 68, after previous sexual harassment complaints by other students.

Kendra Presswood, a Bradenton attorney representing Santamaria, 26, said three other female students previously have accused the professor of sexual harassment.

"Some of them were already working as his teaching assistant at the time," Presswood said.

Smiley, a Stetson professor since 1969, did not return calls seeking comment on Wednesday.

His Miami attorney, Beth Johnson, said the allegations are false. She declined to discuss specifics.

"We do plan to defend the case vigorously," Johnson said of the suit, which was filed on Sept. 25. "As you well know, anybody can put anything in a complaint."

Stetson officials also declined to discuss specific allegations in the lawsuit.

"Stetson has acted properly in all regards and we will vigorously defend the lawsuit," said Darby Dickerson, interim law school dean.

"We take any allegation of sexual harassment very seriously. We do have policies and procedures on how to handle this. We feel like we have followed those procedures."

Santamaria, who has since graduated from Stetson, could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit says that in September 2002 Smiley announced to a class on medical malpractice that Santamaria attended that he was looking for a research assistant. Santamaria responded.

In her lawsuit, Santamaria said Smiley told her that he had previously had a relationship with a research assistant half his age and that the couple lived together and got engaged.

"He said he helped her pack and move out and that, if Santamaria ever met someone else, he would do the same for her," the suit says.

Smiley told her a standard research assistant earned $7-per-hour but he paid $15 to $25 because his assistants "do more than the standard assistant," the suit says.

After Smiley offered the job, the suit says, he told Santamaria she could accept by calling him later and saying, "Mickey, I want to be part of your life."

Santamaria said she refused the job in an e-mail to Smiley the next day.

In 1996, allegations of sexual harassment at Stetson, a Gulfport law school with 895 full-time students, surfaced in a law review article by Manuel R. Ramos, who taught at the school in the early 1990s.

In the article published in the Ohio State Law Journal, Ramos wrote that a Stetson professor was once told by a student about allegations involving sexual harassment involving another professor. The professor referred the complaint to the school's dean.

The professor who made the referral was later fired, Ramos wrote, in a move he thought was political.

Ramos' article did not name the professor accused of sexual harassment. And in an interview on Wednesday, Ramos said he did not know the name.

"I took it as a reference to Smiley," said Presswood, a 1991 Stetson graduate who had Smiley as a professor.

"The implication of the article was that when someone tried to do something about sexual harassment at the school, they weren't treated kindly."

- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

[Last modified October 2, 2003, 02:49:35]


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