The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) revealed today that it has been working with a University of New Mexico professor named Nick Flor. Flor, who is in his 50s and married, became involved in a romantic exchange of texts and emails with a 30-something grad student who was not in any of his classes and never worked for him. The relationship never became physical but after a couple of months, Flor realized he’d made a mistake and tried to put an end to the exchange.

At that point the grad student began threatening to reveal the exchange to Flor’s boss unless he continued to reply to her frequent messages. Realizing he had no other option but to come clean, Flor went to his school and told them he was being harassed by a grad student who didn’t want to him to end their flirtation. Given the way Title IX investigations on college campuses often work, you probably won’t be shocked to learn that the school’s investigation sided with the grad student. Flor was suspended for a year without pay.

Reason’s Robby Soave published a lengthy piece about the case which outlines how a chance meeting resulted in this outcome. Soave refers to the female grad student as Julia though that’s not her real name. Here’s his description of the moment Julia began making threats to go to Flor’s boss:

She accused him—in half a dozen separate emails—of killing the romance. He had broken her heart, she said, in this life and in her previous ones. She alternated sending messages contemplating suicide, and pictures of flowers…

It was on June 24 that Julia made her first threat. She referenced Flor’s boss, and asked what he would think if she sent the boss screenshots of their romantic correspondence. Flor stopped responding to her emails, so she began texting him.

Eventually, Flor went to the university’s Title IX office to complain. Julia learned she was being investigated and filed a counter-claim. An independent investigator examined the case (the entire relationship was a series of emails and texts) but just before the results were set to be released something changed:

Flor learned that the university had taken the independent investigator off the case and replaced him with a woman, the interim Title IX coordinator at the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO). The documents informing Flor of this development included no explanation for it.

The interim Title IX coordinator then ruled that Julia had not sexually harassed Flor. In fact, her threats to publish their correspondence was “good faith civil rights protected activity,” the coordinator wrote in her report. The coordinator went so far as to dismiss the idea that revenge played any part in Julia’s decision making: Rather, “she presents as a very hurt individual grasping for some sort, any sort, of communication from a former lover.” (Again, Flor and Julia had never had a physical relationship.)

Flor did not get off so easily. The report found him responsible for quid pro quo sexual harassment and retaliation. In the OEO’s view, Julia might have believed that she needed to send him sexual messages in order to get the research position—a classic example of quid pro quo harassment. Flor’s decision to report Julia’s threats constituted retaliation.

“They kept her retaliation complaint but threw away mine,” says Flor. “They found me guilty. I don’t see how.”

Flor appealed the decision to the university’s Board of Regents. FIRE submitted a letter on his behalf:

Credibility is a significant factor in Flor’s case. [Julia] has a history of erratic behavior with UNM faculty, and Flor was not the first faculty member to file a harassment complaint against her. In addition, another professor who did not file a formal complaint against her cut off communications with her after becoming uncomfortable with the nature of her communications. (She has now filed a complaint against that professor as well.) Had Flor been given the opportunity to ask questions of [Julia] or of these witnesses during a proper hearing, he might have been able to call into question her credibility in this case—but UNM provided him no such opportunity. Not only was Flor unable to confront his accuser in any meaningful way (such as by cross-examining her or even by posing questions through a hearing panel), OEO did not even interview many of the individuals who Flor believed might have critical exculpatory information. These egregious denials of due process led to a finding of responsibility in his case that is wholly unsupported by the evidence.

Despite this the Board of Regents refused to hear the appeal. He was suspended for a year without pay. Flor admits he made a poor decision in getting involved with the flirtatious emails but as FIRE concludes, “making a poor decision about having a consensual, extramarital flirtation is a far cry from harassment and retaliation, and UNM’s conduct in this case has been nothing short of reprehensible.”