Dartmouth College Faces $70 Million Lawsuit Over Sexual Abuse Professors

Seven women, both current and former students of Dartmouth College, filed a $70 million lawsuit against the school for sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination that they said they experienced from three prominent professors who, according to the suit, turned a human behavior research department “into a 21st-century Animal House.”

According to the Daily News, the lawsuit was filed by six graduate and one undergrad on Thursday, November 15. All of them were students of Dartmouth’s Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences.


What Happened?

The women accuse college administrators of turning a blind eye to the abuse for over a decade, despite knowing that the professors–Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen–“leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated and even raped female students,” according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Concord. The former students said the three professors “perpetuated an alcohol-saturated ‘party culture'” by conducting lab meetings at bars, inviting students to “hot tub parties” at their private residences, and by suggesting undergraduates use cocaine as part of a class demonstration on addiction.

The lawsuit, which seeks $70 million in damages, says this behavior went back as far as 2002, and accuses the college administration of looking the other way for more than 16 years, the New York Times reported.

All the accused professors have left the school this late spring and early summer amid an investigation.

Annemarie Brown, Andrea Courtney, Kristina Rapuano, Marissa Evans, Sasha Brietzke, Vassiki Chauhan and an anonymous plaintiff identified as Jane Doe are bringing the lawsuit on behalf of every current and former female undergraduate and graduate student enrolled in Dartmouth’s psychology and brain sciences department between March 31, 2015, and the date of judgment.

They have brought six claims against the institution, including Title IX violations to include sexual harassment and gender discrimination, as well as claims of breach of fiduciary duty and negligent supervision and retention under New Hampshire law.

The suit claims that Heatherton, who served as the Department Chair from 2004-2005, was the founder of the “predatory club,” and had sexual harassment complaints filed against him as early as 2002 that involved multiple instances of groping. Additionally, sexual harassment and discrimination complaint was filed against Heatherton and Kelley in 2005. The school failed to take any disciplinary action either time.

The professors seemed to make it clear that complaining about the “party culture” environment would come with consequences–the lawsuit claims that during the 2010-2011 school year, Whalen told students that one woman’s attempts to file a complaint against him had “backfired” and she lost steam in her career.

“You don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” Whalen allegedly warned the students.


Dartmouth ‘Applaud The Students’ Courage’

In an email to the college community Thursday morning, Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon said that while “sexual misconduct and harassment have no place at Dartmouth,” the college disputes the allegations in the suit.

“We applaud the courage displayed by members of our community within (the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences) who brought the misconduct allegations to Dartmouth’s attention last year,” Hanlon wrote. “And we remain open to a fair resolution of the students’ claims through an alternative to the court process. However, we respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the characterizations of Dartmouth’s actions in the complaint and will respond through our own court filings.”

The lawsuit against Dartmouth was filed by the law firm Sanford Heisler Sharp. Dartmouth is accused of reinforcing the idea of possible retaliation, as the women claim that the school encouraged them to continue working with their harassers so as not to be expelled or placed on academic probation.

Dartmouth also announced in October 2017 that it was conducting a sexual misconduct investigation of the men, who were tenured professors in the school’s psychology and brain sciences department. That inquiry concluded that the professors should be stripped of their tenure and lose their jobs. All three were allowed to either resign or retire.

Heather ton previously admitted to acting “unprofessionally while intoxicated” upon announcing his retirement in June 2018.

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