A professor at the University of New England is suing the private college, alleging that officials there took away some of her teaching duties and other responsibilities after she accused her department chairman of sexual harassment, according to a lawsuit filed in York County Superior Court.

Lara Carlson, who has taught at UNE since 2009, accuses UNE of violating her civil rights under Title IX, a federal law, and is seeking to have her case heard in U.S. District Court. UNE denies the charges and has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

Carlson, an associate professor in the school’s Westbrook College of Health Professions in Biddeford, does research in motorsports physiology, such as analyzing the health challenges associated with competitive stock car racing.

According to her lawsuit, Carlson said the department chairman, Paul Visich, sent her an inappropriate email, made inappropriate sexual comments and touched her inappropriately in 2012. She said she notified the human resources department but the school took no action.

Over the next three years, she suffered a series of professional setbacks, including a negative performance evaluation and being removed as head of a student college bowl team, from advising students and from teaching certain classes, some of which she had developed, according to the lawsuit. After a department dean was appointed as Carlson’s supervisor, Carlson was removed from the Exercise and Sport Performance Department, making her “the only full-time professor at defendant UNE to be working outside a department,” according to the lawsuit.

Carlson is seeking damages from UNE.

In its response, UNE said Carlson “unreasonably failed to take advantage of corrective opportunities provided by UNE” and failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

In November 2014, Carlson filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, but no final statement from the commission was issued because Carlson requested a right-to-sue letter before there was a commission investigator’s report. She was given the letter in November 2015.

Commission Executive Director Amy Sneirson said Friday there are no other cases before the commission involving UNE.

UNE general counsel Pat Peard, an attorney with Bernstein Shur, said UNE did nothing wrong.

“I believe we have treated (Carlson) very professionally and very well,” Peard said Friday. “Once all the facts in this case come out … it will become clear that the University of New England has not violated any of Dr. Carlson’s rights. Rather, it will become clear we have treated her professionally and very fair.”


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