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Editorial: Professor sued over casual touch

Marta Sanchez, a student at the University of Virginia Law School, is claiming that an incident of personal contact between herself and Professor Kenneth Abraham during one of his lectures caused her severe mental anguish and is seeking $35,000 in damages. This lawsuit should not be allowed to continue. There must be a reasonable agreement made before university professors are left defenseless in their classrooms.

During a lecture, Abraham was explaining a legal issue and to demonstrate his point (adding that he probably shouldn’t do what he was about to do) proceeded to lay his hand on the shoulder of the student closest to him. That student happened to be Marta Sanchez.

At age 11, Sanchez, who is from Panama, became a victim of repeated physical, mental and sexual abuse and, as a result, experiences great difficulty with personal contact. The incident made Sanchez very uncomfortable, and she took her concerns to university counselors. Sanchez found the outcome of a meeting with Abraham unsatisfying and decided to bring a civil lawsuit against Abraham.

There is no doubt that Sanchez was affected by the incident because of her sensitivity to personal contact, but there is no way that Abraham could have known that. Holding him accountable for this action is setting a precedent that will cause any friendly relations between professor and student to be grounds for litigation.

Professors cannot know the history of each student, and though Abraham’s actions were harmless, it is best if they keep their hands to themselves. It should also be understood that personal contact is not always avoidable. Furthermore, Sanchez’s suit should be thrown out when it reaches circuit court because, by all accounts, she had no reason to believe that Abraham would make any kind of inappropriate advance toward her, and he made the context of his actions quite clear.