VU sued again over acts of famed Maya expert

Former grad student claims Demarest torpedoed her career after she spoke out about sexual harassment

For the third time in 18 months, litigation has broken out between anthropologist Brigitte Kovacevich and Vanderbilt University, where she carried out her graduate studies under renowned scholar Arthur Demarest.

Kovacevich filed suit this week against the university, claiming that Demarest, as its agent, has sabotaged her career in several ways because she resisted his sexual harassment. In her complaint, filed in Nashville's federal court and available at this link, Kovacevich accuses Demarest of badmouthing her to the publisher that was bringing out a book she wrote and telling a March 2008 academic conference in Canada that she had plagiarized from him.

Demarest has an international reputation as an expert on the Maya civilization that flourished and then mysteriously collapsed in Central America centuries before the first Spanish explorers arrived. Kovacevich argues that he has used his professional influence to harm her prospects of landing a tenure-track faculty appointment. She is presently a lecturer at the University of Virginia.

Kovacevich first sued Vanderbilt and Demarest in August 2007, making dramatic and detailed charges about Demarest's behavior at a dig site in the Guatemalan jungle. That lawsuit, available at this link, asserted that Demarest had "engaged in repeated unprofessional and outrageous conduct that included burning down the field camp, destruction of artifacts, fabrication of a crime scene, the misappropriation and misuse of Vanderbilt University and government funds, threats against students and assaults of students."

The parties quickly entered talks to resolve the matter, and they agreed on a confidential settlement in January 2008. After the March 2008 conference, however, Kovacevich brought a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Vanderbilt, in turn, sued her for allegedly violating the settlement terms by going to the EEOC. In this week's lawsuit, she says a judge in that case denied Vanderbilt's request for an injunction against her.

The current legal action accuses Demarest of "repeatedly communicating with the University Press of Colorado" to claim that Kovacevich was using drawings in her book without the permission of those who prepared them, a claim she denies.

"Demarest then proceeded to coerce the artist/creator of the images to withdraw permission of use of the images and to request an unreasonable amount of compensation for their one time use, while threatening legal action against plaintiff in Guatemala," the complaint says.

The filing also says Demarest has tried to interfere with the publication by Vanderbilt University Press of a monograph based on Kovacevich's dissertation, as he has been "attacking the quality of the manuscript."

Kovacevich seeks $500,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. Richard J. Braun of Braun & Associates in Nashville is her attorney.

Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs at Vanderbilt, told NashvillePost.com that the university has no comment on the lawsuit at this time.