September 22, 2019
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Dartmouth settles sexual misconduct lawsuit for $14 million

Mary Altaffer | AP
Mary Altaffer | AP
From left back row, Annemarie Brown, Andrea Courtney, and Marissa Evans, and from left front row, Sasha Brietzke, Vassiki Chauhan, Kristina Rapuano, pose in New York, Nov. 14, 2018. Dartmouth College has settled a federal lawsuit with nine women, including those pictured, who sued the school over allegations that it ignored years of harassment and assault by former psychology department professors. In a statement Tuesday, both sides say the settlement includes $14 million for students who can prove they suffered abuse. The settlement's still subject to approval by a U.S. District Court judge in Concord.

CONCORD, New Hampshire — Dartmouth College announced Tuesday that it has settled a contentious federal lawsuit with nine women who sued the school over allegations that it ignored years of harassment and assault by former psychology department professors.

In a statement Tuesday, both sides say the settlement includes $14 million for current and former students who can prove they suffered abuse and can meet other conditions defined in the class action lawsuit, as well as several initiatives by the college “to rectify current problems and prevent future issues.”

“These current and former students not only brought to light the completely unacceptable behavior of these three individuals in one department, but, through their courage, also led to our launching — and now with their help, expanding — initiatives to address issues of sexual misconduct and power imbalances here, and we hope over time on other campuses as well,” Dartmouth Provost Joseph Helble, who participated in three days of discussions with the women, said in a statement.

The settlement is still subject to approval by a U.S. District Court judge in Concord.

In their lawsuit the women, who were graduates of or students at the college, alleged that professors William Kelley, Paul Whalen and Todd Heatherton harassed and touched women inappropriately, often while out partying at bars or at their homes where one hosted hot tub parties.

Kelley and Whalen are also each accused of assaulting a student after a night of drinking, attempting to seduce women under their supervision and punishing those who rebuffed their advances in the Department of Psychological and Brain Science.

“We are satisfied to have reached an agreement with Dartmouth College, and are encouraged by our humble contribution to bringing restorative justice to a body of Dartmouth students beyond the named plaintiffs,” the plaintiffs, three of whom were anonymous, said in a statement.

Dartmouth said it was unaware of the allegations until it was alerted by scores of female students.

In October 2017, Dartmouth launched an investigation into the three professors. It never released the findings and was preparing to fire all three. Heatherton retired and the two other professors resigned.

The New Hampshire attorney general’s office has also launched an investigation.

Whalen and Kelley could not be reached for comment, and it is unclear if they have attorneys. Heatherton has apologized for acting inappropriately at conferences but said, through a lawyer, that he never socialized or had sexual relations with students. He also said he wasn’t aware of the behavior of the two others and would not have condoned it.

The allegations in the lawsuit sparked heated debate at Dartmouth and prompted dozens of alumni to demand greater transparency and accountability in the way the school handles sexual abuse claims. Some were demanding the resignation of the college president while others the withholding of donations.

The school responded this year with a range of promised reforms including an outside review of all academic departments, a revision of its sexual misconduct policy and other measures meant to create an environment free from “the abuse of power.”

President Philip Hanlon also said the college plans to create a single sexual misconduct policy and include processes for dealing with violations. It also will start mandatory training on the federal law barring gender discrimination, put more resources into mental health and more.

An advocacy group that formed in the wake of the scandal, Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment & Sexual Violence, said it was hopeful the settlement would lead to increased transparency. But the group also suggested the college had not learned from the scandal.

“Our group continues to seek meaningful change,” the group said in a statement. “For this to take place, and to initiate the restoration of institutional trust, Dartmouth College must take a survivor-centered approach and assume full responsibility for the abuses that occurred. The College must also acknowledge that the reparations it owes its community extend beyond the lawsuit and settlement, and are long overdue.”

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

 



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