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Frost clings to a Montana State University campus flag on Jan. 5.

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Montana State University agreed to pay a former professor accused of sexual harassment and discrimination and a former graduate student a settlement of $200,000.

The settlement is the result of a civil suit filed in June 2019 against the university and four female graduate students who are current or former employees of MSU. In the lawsuit, Hikmet Budak, a plant scientist, and an unidentified former MSU graduate student, allege the university and the individuals unlawfully disclosed the details of a confidential report containing allegations that were never proven.

The university’s report was anonymously sent to the Chronicle at the time, which published the findings.

Budak and the student through their attorney argued in the lawsuit that the report contained, “allegations that flowed from an inadequate and flawed investigation. They were not tested in any hearing, let alone proven by any standard of proof.”

The lawsuit also alleges the university was negligent in enabling the four individuals to “intentionally disseminate the allegations contained in a confidential report to third parties, including multiple newspaper and other media outlets, causing substantial harm to the plaintiffs.”

The MSU investigation into Budak, which began in 2018, found evidence that he discriminated against students and staff based on disability, national origin, sex, gender, marriage, family status and religion, information the Chronicle published in 2019.

In MSU’s report, Emily Stark, the university’s institutional equity director at the time, concluded by a “preponderance of the evidence” that Budak created “a hostile environment that was rampant with harassment.”

Budak, a scientist from Turkey, taught advanced genetics at MSU since 2016 and was the university’s first endowed chair of plant sciences.

Budak declined to comment for this story when contacted through his Bozeman attorney, Brian Gallik. He has previously denied all allegations against him.

A spokesperson for the university said it doesn’t comment on litigation and that the settlement document speaks for itself.

Attorneys representing the four women also named in the lawsuit did not respond to request for comment.

The MSU report

From April 2018 to August 2018, four women reported concerns with Budak to the Office of Institutional Equity and wished to remain anonymous, according to court documents.

The university placed Budak on administrative leave on Aug. 20, 2018. The next day, the four graduate students requested a formal investigation, which took place from September to October. In early October, the OIE issued Budak a formal complaint “without opportunity to be heard,” according to the civil suit.

In January 2019, the university issued additional allegations against Budak, including research misconduct that he denied.

The OIE report obtained by the Chronicle in 2019 outlined instances of Budak criticizing women for their weight, touching female students in ways that made them uncomfortable, not reporting an affair with a female student to his superiors because he was still married and attempting to control and manipulate students by isolating them.

Budak resigned from MSU in May 2019 due to the “multiple allegations and believing he would not obtain a fair hearing in the pending investigations,” according to the lawsuit.

His separation agreement with MSU, which was included in the lawsuit’s filing, states that no further action related to the allegations would be taken by the university following the letter of resignation and Budak maintained he committed no wrongdoing.

The suit filed by Budak accuses MSU of violating privacy rights by providing the investigative report on Budak to the individuals who filed the complaints in an online format that was capable of being copied and forwarded.

The suit alleges the defendants then targeted “various entities and institutions where Dr. Budak was scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate and a new position of employment” and provided details or copies of the report.

Budak argues in the suit that the allegations resulted in the loss of his job offer and various board positions and damage to his reputation and career opportunities.

Illinois Tech in Chicago announced in May 2019 that it had hired Budak, but the college later confirmed to the Chronicle that it would not employ him.

The settlement

In the civil suit, Budak and the student accused MSU of negligence, violation of right of privacy and breach of contract and the individual defendants of defamation, false light, interference with employment contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The civil settlement was reached out of court and was submitted to Gallatin County District Court for approval in January. Judge John Brown in early February approved the agreement.

In the settlement, Budak, the student and the individual defendants agreed to destroy copies or portions of the reports and findings in their possession but could keep a copy of their individual statements. All parties also agreed not to publish or publicly share information from the investigation and remove all previous social media posts referring to the allegations.

The settlement outlines how review of scientific work by the other party would be a conflict of interest and each side agreed to disclose it if they are asked to review the others’ work.

Both sides also agreed not to provide an oral or written comment beyond stating, “The parties’ mutual disputes were resolved.”

Neither side admitted liability.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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