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Danforth Center terminates researcher for alleged sexual harassment

Plant scientist Thomas Brutnell
Brutnell Lab

This story was updated at 3:10 p.m. — The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center has dismissed one of its researchers on suspicion of sexual misconduct.

The Danforth Center “has ended its relationship” with Thomas Brutnell, according to a statement released today from the Danforth Center’s President Jim Carrington. Brutnell's biography was also removed from the center’s website.

An investigation into Brutnell’s behavior began in May “upon receiving a complaint of inappropriate conduct and comments of a sexual nature” from Brutnell. Danforth officials then placed him on leave. The statement does not elaborate on the allegations against Brutnell.

Brutnell was the director of the Enterprise Institute for Renewable Fuels. He also holds an adjunct professor role at the University of Missouri-Columbia, which did not immediately respond to questions about his status there.

Before coming to the Danforth Center, he worked at the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University.

The Danforth Center’s investigation of Brutnell became public on Wednesday after Stanford scientist Jose Dinneny wrote on Twitter that he had stopped following Brutnell on the social media channel.

“The Danforth Center is determined to maintain a culture where all individuals in positions of power promote a safe, inclusive, discrimination- and harassment-free, and supportive workplace,” Carrington said in his statement. “To this end, the Danforth Center affirms that, regardless of position or influence, sexual harassment or other inappropriate behaviors that may result in a hostile work environment will not be tolerated.”

This week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report on sexual harassment in the sciences. The report noted that existing policies at many research institutions are inadequate at addressing sexual misconduct.

Brutnell could not be reached for comment.

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Danforth Plant Science Center has terminated researcher Thomas Brutnell.

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.