Sexual harassment suit still pending

Although reports have said USF agreed to pay an art student $25,000 to settle a sexual harassment charge, university officials now say that is not the case.

Former student Nicole Ferry filed suit against the university and two art teachers in October 2000, claiming sexual harassment after viewing two photographs as part of a slide show in an “Introduction to Art” class in September 1999.

A statement by the university said, “Although there has been an agreement to settle the case, no settlement has been signed by all the parties, so no settlement is in effect.”

Risk Management, the insurer for all state agents, proposed an agreement to settle with Ferry for $25,000, but USF has not yet made the decision to sign it.

According to Michael Reich, interim director for Media Relations, the university does not admit any guilt in Ferry’s case.

“We are objecting to settlement and anything that would infringe on academic freedom,” Reich said. “The Florida division of Risk Management has the final authority to settle any case against a state university whether we like it or not.”

One of the photographs that offended Ferry, called “N***** Lover,” depicts a black man and a white woman engaging in simulated sex. Because the male model in the photograph was one of the course’s teachers, Ferry claimed in her lawsuit that she “felt trapped in a fearful, hostile, and intimidating atmosphere.”

According to Reich, this is the first time the university has been sued because of a piece of art.”The class that day was dedicated to controversial art,” Reich said. “And students were given the option to miss that day without penalty if they felt they might be offended.”

According to Reich, the agreement to settle was made solely as a business decision on the part of Risk Management.

“I don’t think the message here is that USF made the decision to settle,” Reich said. “Risk Management chose to settle with Ms. Ferry despite USF’s objections.”

If USF does not sign the agreement, which would settle the case, it could be sued by Ferry again without protection from Risk Management. While details of the settlement deliberations are confidential under state law, Reich said he couldn’t speculate if all parties will reach a settlement.

Jack Wheat, special assistant to President Judy Genshaft, said if all parties do not sign the agreement, the case may go to trial.

“Risk Management will pay if a judgment is made against the university,” Wheat said. “They will do what is in the best interest of the state.”