The alcohol- and drug-fueled antics of a star Hunter College professor cost the City University of New York $1.25 million to settle claims by his aggrieved staffers, according to a report.
CUNY and Jeffrey Parsons, a psychology professor and sex and drug researcher, reached the hush-hush settlement with six staffers who worked with Parsons at his Center for HIV Educational Studies & Training, known as CHEST, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.
The Chronicle cited documents from the 2019 agreement showing Parsons, and his husband Christopher Hietikko-Parsons, paid $150,000 of the settlement, which totaled $1.4 million.
Five of the staffers cited emotional distress with one also claiming physical assault and the sixth citing unspecified misconduct.
The Post broke the news that Parsons stepped down from Hunter in 2019 after an investigation into complaints about the professor’s behavior. Among the allegations: Parsons “engaged in the use, and in the distribution, of illegal drugs (cocaine) at CHEST events … and/or with CHEST employees and CUNY faculty and students associated with CHEST,” according to a document seen by The Post.
The probe was sparked by an annual staff party called CHESTFest that, in 2018, was thrown on the second floor of the Stonewall Inn in the West Village.
Attendees told The Post that Parsons, as was typical at such events, encouraged guests to drink. He then, without permission, lifted up the shirt of a staffer to expose the person’s chest. The action ground the party to a halt and infuriated staffers who complained to officials at CUNY.
But Parsons’ out-of-bounds behavior went back far longer.
A former staffer at CHEST told The Chronicle that he went with Parsons to a gay bar more than a decade ago to help recruit subjects for a research study. The unidentified staffer said he witnessed Parsons openly perform oral sex on a bar patron and then tried to force the employee to do the same on someone else.
One colleague said he saw Parsons snort cocaine in his office.
“He operated that office like his fiefdom,” David Bimbi told The Chronicle. “If he wanted to do lines of cocaine on his desk, this is his office, this is his world.”
Parsons’ photographer husband had been paid by CHEST for freelance work for years. His Mindful Designs company raked in a total of $656,000 from 2011 to 2018, according to a CUNY which said the work was cleared by a conflict of interest panel.
Parsons hired top criminal defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman, who told The Post, “We categorically deny the allegations from disgruntled former CHEST employees or others about forced sex, illegal drug use and the like.”
A CUNY spokesman said that since the Parsons settlement it had “taken substantial measures to prevent similarly toxic situations; to make sure that all members of the CUNY community are aware of their rights and how to report sexual misconduct; and to train all those responsible for receiving those complaints how to handle them with speed and sensitivity.”