Posted November 15th, 2018.
By Dave Simpson
Law360 (November 15, 2018, 10:33 PM EST) — Seven women hit Dartmouth College Trustees with a putative $70 million Title IX class action in New Hampshire federal court Thursday, claiming the Ivy League school let a “Predators’ Club” of male professors in the psychology department sexually harass and assault female students.
The six named women and one Jane Doe allege that three of Dartmouth’s former tenured Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences professors, Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen, treated them “as sex objects” and turned the department into a “21st Century Animal House.”
“Among other things, these 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,'” the suit alleges.
The three men, dubbed the “Predators’ Club,” made sure the women in their department were vulnerable to such harassment by hitching their mentorship and support to an understanding that the students must participate in the “alcohol-saturated ‘party culture’ they perpetuated,” the suit says.
The women seek to represent a proposed class of more than 40 current and former female students who have matriculated or will matriculate at Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences between March 2015 and the date of judgment. The suit alleges numerous violations to Title IX, including retaliation, quid pro quo sexual harassment, and gender discrimination, as well as state law violations.
The women allege that Dartmouth has known about the inappropriate behavior of these three men since just after the turn of the century but that it has done nothing about it, noting that complaints were filed against the men as early as 2002, with no results.
Last year, a group of women went to Dartmouth’s Title IX office to again raise the issue, the suit says, and again nothing was done. Three weeks later, one of the professors sexually assaulted another student, the suit alleges. More than 27 complaints were submitted to the office over the course of several months, the suit alleges.
Finally, in October 2017, after word of the complaints were leaked to the press, Dartmouth acknowledged the allegations and launched an investigation, the suit claims. Shortly thereafter, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office opened a criminal investigation into the professors. In July, the men were allowed to retire or resign, the suit alleges.
In addition to the $70 million in damages, the women are asking the court to make Dartmouth implement programs and policies to reverse the gender discrimination, sexual harassment and hostile environment at the school and ensure prompt responses to future sexual harassment claims.
“The seven plaintiffs, each an exemplary female scientist at the start of her career, came to Dartmouth to contribute to a crucial and burgeoning field of academic study,” the suit says. “Plaintiffs were instead sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by the department’s tenured professors and expected to tolerate increasing levels of sexual predation.”
The specifics of the allegations against the men include groping, sexual harassment and unwanted advancements. One woman claims that Whalen pressured her into drinking with him, repeatedly bought her drinks, invited her home and then forced her into having nonconsensual intercourse with him.
When she told him “to at least use protection, Whalen laughed and told her, ‘that is one thing I am not going to do,'” the suit alleges.
Another woman claims that Kelley sexually assaulted her while she was incapacitated from intoxication. The woman had “no memory of engaging in sexual intercourse, nor does she recall leaving the bar or how they returned to the hotel,” the suit says, adding, “Based on her physical state the following day, she has wondered whether Kelley drugged her.”
The professors could not be reached for comment Thursday. Dartmouth did not immediately respond to request for comment Thursday.
“What stands out even more than the appalling way tenured Ivy League professors acted is the incredible courage their victims have demonstrated,” Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP partner Steven Kelly, who is representing the women, said in a statement. “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.”
The women are represented by Charles G. Douglas III of Douglas Leonard & Garvey PC, and David Sanford, Nicole Wiitala, Deborah K. Marcuse and Steven J. Kelly of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.
Counsel for Dartmouth was not immediately known Thursday.
The case is Rapuano et al. v. Trustees of Dartmouth College, case number 1:18-cv-01070, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire.
–Editing by Breda Lund.