Columbia University Sexual Harassment/Title IX Lawsuit

Case Description

Case Type: Sexual Harassment
Company: Columbia University

Former Columbia University undergraduate student Irene Politis today filed an Amended Complaint for $60 million against Columbia University and former Dean Thomas Harford.  In today’s complaint, Politis is no longer proceeding as ‘Jane Doe.’

In the original Complaint, filed in August 2018, Politis alleged that Dean of Students Harford used his power and influence to coerce her into an inappropriate sexual and romantic relationship in the summer of 2018 and that Columbia University violated Title IX by failing to protect her from Dean Harford’s sexual misconduct. This occurred soon after Politis had suffered a traumatic experience and was referred to Dean Harford for assistance.  Dean Harford gave Politis money from his personal funds and then subjected her to unwanted, abusive and inappropriate sexual activity, told her stories about his violent past to intimidate her, and used her need for scholarship funds as bait to keep her bound to him.

Based on new information, the Amended Complaint alleges Columbia knew that Dean Harford had a history of sexually harassing and stalking women at Columbia. Nevertheless, the suit alleges, the University permitted Dean Harford to remain in a position where he had great authority over the lives and well-being of students. The Amended Complaint also describes how Columbia carried out a campaign of retaliation against Politis after she filed her original Complaint.

The Amended Complaint provides additional detail about Dean Harford’s coercive sexual relationship with Politis. After Politis told Dean Harford about her discomfort with the relationship, Dean Harford admitted his wrongdoing, texting her “I know I failed you, and I know that means I’ve failed personally as the dean of students.”

The Amended Complaint further alleges that when Politis brought Dean Harford’s inappropriate behavior to the attention of other Columbia administrators and the public, Columbia retaliated against her and effectively forced her out of the University. After Ms. Politis filed an internal complaint and this lawsuit in August 2018, Columbia restricted her access to University personnel and resources. The University also threatened Politis with eviction from her University housing after she took medical leave due to Dean Harford’s harassment. Ultimately, the suit alleges, Columbia compelled Ms. Politis to forfeit her housing.

“Ms. Politis’s original Complaint contained facts that were the tip of the iceberg,” said David Sanford, lead counsel in this matter. “We knew that Dean Harford had engaged in coercive sexual behavior with her, and that Columbia failed to protect her from this misconduct. Since the filing of the original complaint, we have learned that Columbia was aware of Dean Harford’s prior acts of sexual harassment and stalking, tolerated it, and thereby empowered Dean Harford to victimize Ms. Politis.”

The suit is brought under the New York City Human Rights Law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and New York common law. The filing requests compensatory and punitive damages for Politis, as well as all attorneys’ fees, a pre-and post-judgment interest, and other relief the Court may find just and proper.

Politis is represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Chairman David Sanford, Vice-Chairman Jeremy Heisler, and New York associate Meredith Firetog.

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David SanfordDavid Sanford
Washington, DC

Jeremy HeislerJeremy Heisler
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Meredith FiretogMeredith Firetog
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