Editor’s note: This article contains descriptions of alleged sexual activity as written in a lawsuit.
Work on a research project for class credit led to sexual harassment in Peru for a Clemson University undergraduate according to a lawsuit filed in Oconee County on May 16.
Bradley Hieronymus, a food science and technology major at Clemson, was touched “in ways that were uncomfortable” and “unwanted” by Felix H. Barron, a professor in the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Sciences at the university, according to a July 19, 2018, letter from the university’s Office of Access and Equity which was submitted as evidence in the lawsuit.
“Barron’s hostile environment, sexual harassment/assault on this Plaintiff was so extreme and outrageous so as to exceed all possible bounds of decency that it is regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in the United States, South Carolina and any other civilized community on the Planet,” the lawsuit states.
While the university found Barron’s actions inappropriate, Hieronymus’ lawsuit alleges that the university failed to provide a remedy for him in accordance with Title IX, part of the federal Education Amendments of 1972 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education and encompasses sexual harassment.
According to the United States Department of Education, “If an investigation reveals that the harassment created a hostile environment, the educational institution must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”
Barron has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit and does not have an attorney listed. The publicly listed number for Barron has been disconnected. The Greenville News and Independent Mail have tried to contact Barron via LinkedIn.
The Greenville News does not typically identify victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault, but is doing so in this case because Hieronymus identified in a lawsuit.
Attorneys John Reckenbeil and Jeffrey Ezell are representing Hieronymus. Reckenbeil spoke to The Greenville News on behalf of Hieronymus and said he believes Clemson failed to remedy the situation for his client even after finding Barron responsible for harassment.
“This is a very complicated legal case that we feel can really shift the pendulum of Title IX to the victim,” Reckenbeil said. “That is what I think has been clearly deficient in this case.”
Professor exerted control and influence through text messages and in person, lawsuit claims
According to the lawsuit, Hieronymus first interacted with Barron on August 14, 2017, when he met with him to ask whether he could participate in a Creative Inquiry course that allows students to get class credit for research.
In the fall of that semester, Barron took Hieronymus to a food science meeting in Myrtle Beach where he told him he could become a long-term “business partner” through hard work, according the suit. During the spring semester of 2018, Barron served as Hieronymus’ supervisor for paid work.
Following the Myrtle Beach trip, Barron invited Hieronymus to join him during spring break for another business opportunity in Mexico and began to “exert control and influence” over him through text messages starting in February 2018, according to the lawsuit.
Clemson’s international travel office denied Hieronymus’ application for the Mexico trip when he was unable to answer questions about where the trip was going, according to the lawsuit, but Barron invited him on another trip to Peru in mid-April. It is unclear from the lawsuit whether the second trip was properly documented with the university’s travel office. The Greenville News has asked for the university to confirm whether the trip was registered or approved in advance.
Before the Peru trip, Barron told Hieronymus he would need to come work at his home in Seneca and told him to doctor his time cards so as not to show work hours past 5 p.m., according to the lawsuit. Time cards were submitted as evidence in the lawsuit.
Over the course of approximately eight to nine visits to Barron’s home, Hieronymus was subjected to increasingly inappropriate acts, according to the lawsuit. At first, Barron began greeting him with hugs and then attempted kisses on the check. Barron later made him try on clothing and change shirts in front of him. At another point, Barron came into a bathroom and started shaving Hieronymus’ body and lifted his boxers, the lawsuit alleges.
According to the filing, Hieronymus tried to rationalize the unwelcome actions because Barron was making promises about his future career.
The visits to Barron’s home in Seneca came at the expense of Hieronymus’ other classes and Barron held the promise of the Peru trip over his head, according to the lawsuit.
Victim recognizes the ‘enormity of the situation’
During the trip to Peru, after Barron and Hieronymus presented on food safety issues during the day to the company Grupo Gloria, Barron’s harassment continued at night, according to the lawsuit.
Barron repeatedly entered Hieronymus’ room, which had a sauna, and at one point attempted to reach his hand into Hieronymus’ boxers, according to the lawsuit. Later, Barron demanded that Hieronymus achieve an erection and grabbed at him, the lawsuit states.
It was after this latter incident that Barron “felt the enormity of the situation” and recognized he was now “trapped” in a foreign country where he could not speak the language and did not know who to go to for help, the lawsuit states.
“Plaintiff was forced to come to the realization that he would be subjected to several more days of Barron’s appalling behavior before he could make it back to the United States safely,” the lawsuit said.
Barron’s unwanted and inappropriate actions continued for the remainder of the trip, according to the lawsuit. As soon as Hieronymus got in his mother’s car at the airport in Greenville, he “slammed the passenger door, in a massive release of frustration punched the dashboard and proceeded to tell his mother the inappropriate behavior by Barron,” the lawsuit states.
Within days, Hieronymus reported his allegations of the full events to the university. Four months after the report, the Office of Access and Equity wrote a letter to Hieronymus which said it had found a “preponderance of evidence” showing Barron had violated Clemon’s Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination Policy.
Joe Galbraith, Clemson’s vice president for strategic communications, said Barron was “dismissed” from the university on July 23, 2018. The Greenville News has filed an open records request for Barron’s personnel file and disciplinary records.
In May 2018, Barron filed articles of organization with the state for Felix Barron & Associates LLC. The Greenville News has requested a copy of this filing.
The lawsuit against the university specifically names Barron as a defendant in addition to Alesia Smith, the university’s Title IX coordinator.
Smith, who also serves on the Clemson city council, declined to comment and referred questions about the case to the university. The university had “no comment” on the case, citing pending litigation, a university spokesman said.
‘He has learned that the world contains evil’
Reckenbeil said the university has exhibited a “monumental failure” in trying to remedy the situation for Hieronymus, who has one semester remaining until graduation. The lawsuit alleges that the university has not properly compensated Hieronymus the wages and overtime he was owed for traveling with Barron as a student worker and for going to Barron’s home under the guise of employment.
Reckenbeil said the university has also failed to help his client “make sure his resume is full of the experiences he was promised through Barron.” Although he names Barron in the lawsuit, and asks for damages from him, Reckenbeil said the case is not about Barron but about the university making the situation right for his client.
Based on text messages submitted as evidence in the case and statements made to Hieronymus, Reckenbeil said he is also convinced that Barron has done similar things with other students.
“It is time that victims need to be protected with the full strength of the law,” Reckenbeil said. “If you do nothing for victims, there is a chilling effect. Why would Bradley give up on all of those promises that Barron would make him a millionaire? If we do nothing for this young man, then what about all the others?”
In the future, Reckenbeil wants to see a committee at Clemson designed to create individualized learning plans to help get victims of sexual assault back on track with their educations. He said right now universities eradicate the wrongdoer and then treat it as if they have met their Title IX obligation, but he believes the law necessitates more action.
Reckenbeil believes the real research opportunities Hieronymus missed out on because of Barron will have a ripple effect for him in the future. He said the situation has also deeply hurt his client, who he described as a “hard-working” and “brilliant” young man.
“He has learned that the world contains evil,” Reckenbeil said.