ASU Professor's Soured Affair with Grad Student Still Grinding Through Court
A federal lawsuit resulting from the soured affair of an Arizona State University professor and one of his former students is not time-barred and may continue, a judge has ruled.
Tasha Kunzi, a former graduate student at ASU's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, alleges that Professor Travis Pratt harassed her after she broke off their love affair and that she was forced to quit her doctoral program in July 2010 when Pratt and Scott Decker, the school's director, retaliated against her.
In court paperwork filed over the past year, Pratt and ASU didn't deny the allegations. Instead, they focused on getting the case tossed on technicalities -- but that didn't work.
The federal case has moved slowly since we broke this story last year, with ASU and the Board of Regents, represented by Rebecca Herbst, state assistant attorney general, arguing with Kunzi over whether she'd filed her claim in time.
Kunzi's lawsuit states that she began her affair with Pratt in July 2009 after she was accepted into the school's doctoral program. She broke off the relationship in February 2010 after Pratt's wife found out about it.
Kunzi claims he was "upset" and began harassing her with unwanted phone calls and texts. He'd occasionally drunk-dial her to disparage her new boyfriend and would drive by her house on his motorcycle. Pratt's wife began work at the school, where Kunzi continued to work as a research assistant, and also would harass her. Meanwhile, her suit claims, Director Decker failed to respond to her complaints. She withdrew from the doctoral program that July.
The state's statute of limitations for personal injury claims is two years. Claims regarding alleged civil-rights violations must be made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days of the alleged violation. Herbst, the state's attorney, argued that since the harassment and retaliation occurred before Kunzi resigned from the program and failed to meet the filing deadlines after that point, she was barred from bringing her case to court.
U.S. District Judge James Teilborg ruled on November 25 that Kunzi may have been subject to "continuing violation" under the law due to her claims that some harassment by Pratt continued well into 2011. Pratt allegedly told her in December 2010 that if he took her back, the harassment would stop, records state. After she left her job as a faculty associate in May 2011, he reportedly called her new employer "to reveal the details of her Kunzi's departure from ASU."
One other factor Judge Teilborg weighed in determining that a "systemic violation" may be occurring: Kunzi's allegation that Pratt is "presently involved in another intimate relationship with one of his female graduate students and is continuing to harass his other female students."
"These allegations sufficiently plead facts that qualify as a hostile work environment where at least one discriminatory act occurred after the critical dates..." Teilborg wrote in his order allowing the lawsuit to proceed.
New hearings in the case are now set for well into 2014, making it clear the case will go on for some time unless a settlement occurs.
In a report to the court filed on November 8 by both parties, ASU strikes a somewhat indignant tone, portraying Kunzi as a bad student who isn't grateful for what the school has done for her.