Dartmouth College Gender Discrimination/Title IX Class Action

Case Type: Gender Discrimination/Title IX
Organization: Dartmouth College

Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP filed a landmark Title IX class action lawsuit against Dartmouth College in New Hampshire federal court on behalf of female students in Dartmouth’s Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences (“PBS”). The Complaint alleges that Dartmouth willfully ignored more than a decade of widespread sexual harassment by tenured professors Todd Heatherton, William Kelley, and Paul Whalen, who formed a private “predators club” and treated the PBS Department like a “21st Century Animal House.”

Each of the seven named Plaintiffs is a highly accomplished female scientist. Kristina Rapuano, Andrea Courtney and Annemarie Brown all completed their doctorates in brain science at Dartmouth and are now at Yale, Stanford and Dartmouth, respectively. Vassiki Chauhan, Sasha Brietzke, and Jane Doe are currently or were formerly enrolled in Dartmouth’s PBS doctoral program. Marissa Evans is a graduate of Dartmouth College who focused her undergraduate studies on brain science in PBS.

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Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, and Rape

The Complaint details how the three professors sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, and raped female students in the PBS Department. The Complaint chronicles how professors Heatherton, Kelley, and Whalen hired female lab assistants based on their physical attractiveness and were in competition to have the “hottest lab.”

Plaintiffs allege that these three professors conducted professional lab meetings at bars, invited students to late-night “hot tub parties” in their personal homes, and invited undergraduate students to use real cocaine during classes related to addiction as part of a “demonstration.”

Dartmouth Knew About Sexual Misconduct for More Than a Decade

Dartmouth knew about this conduct for years but failed to take action until Plaintiffs and other women in the PBS Department organized and filed a collective Title IX complaint against the professors. Student activism also brought media attention to the issue, prompting the New Hampshire Attorney General to launch a criminal probe into the professors’ conduct.

Presented with allegations of professors raping and abusing their students, Dartmouth nevertheless waited months before removing the professors from their labs, and made no effort in the interim to protect or warn its students. In fact, one of the seven Plaintiffs was raped by Whalen 20 days after her PBS colleagues filed their Title IX complaint.

Sanford Heisler Sharp Attorneys Comment

The Plaintiffs are represented by a Sanford Heisler Sharp team led by Chairman David Sanford, Baltimore Managing Partner Deborah K. Marcuse, Partner Steven Kelly, and Associate Nicole Wiitala. Charles G. Douglas of Douglas, Leonard & Garvey is local counsel for the Plaintiffs.

“What stands out even more than the appalling way tenured Ivy League professors acted is the incredible courage their victims have demonstrated. In more than 15 years of litigating sexual assault cases, I have never seen a group of survivors unite to seek justice and bring about change as these victims have done,” said Kelly.

“This lawsuit is the only means these women have to remedy the College’s past wrongs and ensure the institution implements meaningful reforms that will allow female students to engage in rigorous scientific studies in this discipline without being held back by gender discrimination and harassment,” said Marcuse.

“Dartmouth has not responded adequately or appropriately to the evidence and complaints of sexual harassment and the hostile environment in the Psychology and Brain Sciences department. It has failed in its responsibility to protect its female students,” said Wiitala.

“This class action lawsuit against Dartmouth puts the Trustees on notice of their responsibility to implement significant, systematic reforms before other female students are criminally impacted by Dartmouth’s callous indifference and perpetual inaction,” said Sanford.

Goals of the Lawsuit

Plaintiffs’ primary goal in bringing this suit is to shine a light on pervasive discrimination against women in academic sciences, at Dartmouth and beyond. Plaintiffs are committed to forcing Dartmouth to fully examine the root causes of the pervasive discrimination they suffered and to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure women scientists and female students in general are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. One Plaintiff captured this concern, stating: “What keeps me up at night are thoughts of all the scientific discoveries that will not be made because so many women have been driven from science.”

Case Materials

Our Team

David SanfordDavid Sanford
Washington, DC

Deborah K. MarcuseDeborah K. Marcuse
Baltimore Managing Partner
Baltimore, MD

Steven J. KellySteven J. Kelly
Baltimore and DC Partner
Baltimore, MD

Nicole WiitalaNicole Wiitala
New York, NY

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