A Macalester alumna representing former English professor Kristin Naca in her lawsuit against the college will be deposed.
In an Oct. 25 decision, the United States District Court of Minnesota granted Macalester’s motion to compel the deposition of Hlee Vang ’02 – whose 2002 harassment claim against professor Terry Boychuk is central to the case.
Naca’s suit against Macalester alleges “discriminatory and retaliatory termination” on the basis of “her systemic Valley Fever, her sincere practice of the religion of Santería, sex, sexual orientation, and her Filipina and Puerto Rican ancestry and national origin.”
The college maintains that it fired Naca in September 2015 for an inappropriate relationship with a student that violated a Title IX statute. Naca claims that the relationship took place after the student had graduated and thus did not violate Macalester policy.
The suit names professor Terry Boychuk as a comparator because he, “a straight, white, Christian male, was permitted to go up for tenure review, and was awarded tenure, despite multiple harassment complaints by then-incumbent Macalester students during his tenure review.”
Naca’s attorneys claimed that Macalester’s deposing Vang would “infringe upon the attorney-client privilege,” but the court found that the deposition would only regard “information about Ms. Vang’s allegations regarding Professor Boychuk, not privileged communications between Plaintiff and Ms. Vang.”
In March of 2002, a group of five students sent a letter to then-President Michael McPherson alleging that they had knowledge of further improper conduct by Boychuk, at which point the Board of Trustees postponed their vote on his tenure nomination.
Shortly thereafter, those students wrote a letter to the editor printed in the April 12, 2002 edition of The Mac Weekly alleging that the college was “ignoring due process” in its investigation of the claim or claims made against Boychuk.
“Quite simply,” the authors wrote, “we believe that the administration officials have been acting improperly regarding this situation for quite some time.”
“We requested everything related to the Boychuk affair and thus far there have been limited disclosures,” Naca’s lead attorney Peter J. Nickitas said. “The Mac Weekly article suggests there’s more we haven’t seen, specifically the letter from the five students.”
Reports in The Mac Weekly at the time state that the letter did not contain specifics regarding any allegations against Boychuk, and its authors had no firsthand knowledge of any harassment. That, as well as the letter’s timing, outraged a number of faculty and students who felt that the authors were interfering with due process and unfairly harming Boychuk’s reputation.
Boychuk was eventually cleared of the harassment allegation, but sanctioned by Macalester and required to attend racial and gender sensitivity trainings. Three days later, he received tenure. He has gone on to serve as chair of the sociology department and still teaches at the college.
Though he said that “we have no knowledge whether Professor Boychuk completed the sanctions or not,” Nickitas said that currently he has no plans to depose Boychuk.
According to the U.S. District Court’s ruling on Macalester’s motion to depose Vang, Naca was “evasive and did not reveal anything about these allegations [against Boychuk] at her deposition.”
Nickitas vehemently disagreed with the Court’s decision. “Deposing the other side’s attorney is highly, highly irregular and offensive, and under these circumstances they’re retraumatizing Ms. Vang.” He went on to accuse Macalester of seeking to make Vang “a victim all over again.”
Per the Mississippi Market Co-op website, Vang currently works as an Assistant Public Defender with the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office and has her own law practice where she specializes in “providing legal services to businesses and healthcare professionals.”
Though more than half of Naca’s claims were dismissed in February, Nickitas said that he hopes to use the remaining month-and-a-half of discovery to identify more comparators besides Boychuk. “We [have] found enough to justify this case continuing as we’ve begun,” Nickitas said.
Macalester’s attorney Sean Somermeyer wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly that the college remains confident in its case.
“We do not have any comment apart from stating that Macalester will continue to vigorously defend against Naca’s frivolous lawsuit,” he wrote, “and expects it will ultimately prevail on the claims that remain.”
Per the court, Vang must be deposed by Dec. 15. The Mac Weekly will report more as this story develops.
by Abe Asher and Jennifer Katz