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Judge clears Macalester College of wrongdoing in professor's termination

ST. PAUL — A judge has cleared Macalester College of wrongdoing after it fired a faculty member for having sex with a recent graduate.

Kristin Naca, an assistant professor of poetry, sued the college in 2016 in U.S. District Court on dozens of counts related to discrimination, hostile work environment and disability accommodations.

U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz last week rejected the final remaining claims and dismissed the case at Macalester's request.

"This was extremely serious misconduct — and there is nothing at all suspicious about a college terminating a professor for committing such misconduct," he wrote.

Naca was being considered for tenure in 2015 when the college solicited input from her former students. In response, a 2014 graduate came forward to accuse Naca of initiating a sexual relationship with her.

The student had studied under Naca for three years before Naca invited her to her home, 11 days before her graduation. There, Naca asked the student about a perceived attraction between the two and asked if she would like Naca to make a pass at her.

Three days after graduation, Naca again invited the student to her home and they began a sexual relationship that lasted several weeks.

The student told college officials a year later that she felt pressured by Naca.

Naca argued the college had no prohibition against faculty having sex with former students.

But Macalester found Naca had, with the first invitation to her home, "intended to set the stage for a sexual relationship."

Naca alleged in her lawsuit that she was fired for discriminatory reasons — because she is a woman, a lesbian, a Filipina and Puerto Rican, and a Santeria priestess. She also claimed the school failed to accommodate her when she was suffering from valley fever, a fungal infection.

Schiltz found the college did make disability accommodations and that Naca gave no evidence that her firing was pretextual.

"Naca's career was progressing smoothly. What changed after May 2015 was not (Naca's) race/ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, or religion; what changed is that a former student made a formal complaint of sexual misconduct," the judge wrote.

Naca claimed that she was not treated fairly compared with two white male faculty members — one who married a former student, and another who was granted tenure despite secondhand claims that he sexually harassed various students.

Schiltz found the cases were not comparable.

Naca previously had sued the student and her parents in state court for defamation. The case ended with a settlement agreement in which the student had to write a letter asserting she never accused Naca of sexual assault.

Attorney broke rules

In dismissing the federal case, Schiltz chided Naca's attorney, Peter Nickitas, for wasting "dozens of hours" of the judge's time by making claims that either were unsupported or inaccurately cited.

Nickitas' initial 81-page complaint in the case was rejected for exceeding the judicial district's word limit.

And in February, after Nickitas had submitted multiple late or overly long motions in the case, Schiltz ordered him to pay Macalester $1,000 to compensate the college for attorney time.

Nickitas' final substantive filing, in response to Macalester's motion for summary judgment, measured one word short of the word limit.

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