A former Portland State University undergraduate has filed a $1 million lawsuit against her faculty mentor for sexual harassment over the professor's alleged obsession with the student's experiences as a BDSM model and sexual-abuse survivor.
The suit, which alleges some bizarre sexual situations in great detail, highlights a tension "between a faculty member's legitimate academic engagement with sexually tinged topics" and "sexual matters inappropriate to discuss with a student," according to the Portland Oregonian.
Whitney "Theda" Orlando was pursuing a degree in psych and French at PSU when she struck up a collegial relationship with Assistant Professor Marcia Klotz, taking Klotz's courses on Feminist Literature and Erotics of Power. They had similar research interests, and Orlando began to work with Klotz more closely.
In 2009 Orlando confided to Klotz that she used to model in bondage photographs, sometimes in the nude. Over the next three years, Orlando alleges in her lawsuit, Klotz used her position of power to pressure Orlando into providing pornographic images from her past work. A "state of sexual and romantic tension" arose between the two, according to the court papers.
Early on in their correspondence, Orlando also told Klotz that she'd been molested by a middle-school teacher and still felt some effects from the experience. Rather than take that as a cue to back off, the professor allegedly pressed Orlando for more intimate details and encouraged her to do research related to sexual abuse.
Things seemed to escalate. The lawsuit alleges that Orlando felt pressured into watching a documentary on porn with Klotz and Klotz's husband at their home, leading to an "increasingly romantic and sexualized" relationship that made Orlando ill at ease:
Klotz encouraged plaintiff to explore sexual and BDSN-related subjects with her, including discussing aspects of plaintiff's childhood sexual abuse. Klotz admitted to finding plaintiff's earlier sexual abuse erotic, and expressed an interest in replicating aspects of that abuse with plaintiff in a BDSM context.
To illustrate her erotic interest in her partners' sexual trauma, Klotz shared with plaintiff details of Klotz's sexual interactions with her submissive male partner that included reenactments of that male partner's childhood sexual abuse at the hands of his father. Plaintiff believed that Klotz was attempting to recruit plaintiff to participate in similar kinds of sexual encounters with Klotz.
The stress apparently took a serious toll on Orlando, who was eventually hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat. But when Orlando tried to shift to another research project with a different professor, Klotz accused her of shoddy work and plagiarism to their program coordinator—a potential career-ender.
Orlando, who is seeking damages from the university, left school and is finishing her degree elsewhere; Klotz now teaches at a university in Arizona. The last course Orlando took with Klotz, ironically, was an independent study section titled Privacy Rights.
[Photo credits: Portland State University]