Jury Awards Former USM Student $800,000

A jury awarded $800,000 Tuesday to a former student in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the University of Southern Mississippi. Davida Williams claimed that she was sexually harassed by former English professor Rex Stamper, and the university did not do enough to help her obtain her doctorate degree once the harassment was discovered.

University Counsel Lee Gore said Tuesday the university will appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.

"We are very disappointed with the outcome,'' Gore said. "The fact that the court dismissed the individual defendants from the case show that the USM administration did everything it could do and everything it was supposed to do.''

Forrest County Circuit Court Judge Dicky McKenzie on Monday dismissed claims against liberal arts dean Glenn Harper and retired vice president David Huffman. Williams' attorney Kim Chaze did not return calls to his office Tuesday, but said on Monday that Harper and Huffman did not help her client earn her degree.

"If they would've rectified this situation, we wouldn't be here today,'' Chaze said.

Gore said that Williams did not do the work necessary to complete her degree.

"Although the jury was well-intentioned, we believe they were mistaken because the evidence showed that the plaintiff did not do the work necessary to earn a doctorate,'' Gore said. "All of the faculty who reviewed her work found that it was not up to date and it was not complete.''

Huffman, who investigated Williams' complaints in 1996, testified on Monday that Williams' work was substandard.

"I concluded the dissertation was unacceptable,'' Huffman said. "All of those evaluators rejected the dissertation.''

Huffman also testified that Stamper led him to believe there was no inappropriate behavior. Gore said Tuesday Stamper's behavior was not sanctioned by the university.

"The university did not condone those actions nor did it approve those,'' Gore said.

Stamper testified that he and Williams had consensual sex four times from 1985 to 1986 when she was a student. Williams denies that. Williams husband and son testified Monday that Williams' was emotionally and physically affected by the harassment.

"We watched her lose weight, gain weight, her hair fall out,'' said David Greenwell, Williams' husband. "The insomnia would be all the time. To this day, she still has it. There's a constant anxiety. It never, ever goes away.''