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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

$70 million lawsuit alleges Dartmouth turned blind eye to sexual abuse

Updated 1/15/19 at 12:18 a.m.

Seven women have filed a $70 million federal class action against the College alleging that Dartmouth ignored more than 16 years of sexual harassment by Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen, three former professors in the psychological and brain sciences department. The lawsuit marks the first time the women — including six current and former graduate students and one former undergraduate, all of whom did research in the PBS department — have spoken publicly about the allegations.

According to the lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in New Hampshire, the three professors turned the department into “a 21st century Animal House,” sexually assaulting female students and competing to have the “hottest lab.” The lawsuit alleges that while Dartmouth knew about the professors’ conduct, it did not take action until women in the psychological and brain sciences department filed a Title IX complaint against the professors. Following a months-long investigation by the College, Heatherton and Whalen left Dartmouth in June, and Kelley resigned in July.

College president Phil Hanlon addressed the lawsuit in an email to campus and alumni Thursday morning after news of the suit broke in national media, including the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Boston Globe. Hanlon rebutted the claims made in the suit, saying the College “took unprecedented steps toward revoking [the professors’] tenure and terminating their employment.” Dartmouth intends to respond to the lawsuit with its own court filings, Hanlon wrote.

In a statement released by his lawyer, Heatherton denied "playing any role in creating a toxic environment at Dartmouth College." He claimed that the lawsuit unfairly lumps him in with Kelley and Whalen, noting that the majority of allegations in the lawsuit are against those two professors. He denied the allegation that he hired female students for his lab based on their attractiveness, stating that his lab manager handled hiring, and denied other statements and actions attributed to him or claimed they were taken out of context. More generally, Heatherton denied knowledge of Kelley and Whalen's alleged actions or general pattern of behavior.

On Oct. 25, 2017, The Dartmouth first reported that Heatherton, Kelley and Whalen were under investigation for misconduct and on paid leave. On Oct. 31, Hanlon wrote an email to campus explaining that the three professors were “alleged to have engaged in sexual misconduct and are being investigated by law enforcement,” which included the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, the Grafton County attorney, the New Hampshire State Police, the Grafton County Sheriff’s office and Hanover Police. The College announced on Nov. 10 that it had hired an external investigator to look into the allegations.

The Dartmouth reported on Nov. 18 that 15 undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students and scholars in the PBS department had signed a statement alleging that the three professors created a “hostile academic environment in which sexual harassment is normalized.” Four of those signees spoke directly to The Dartmouth about their experiences, and three more provided written statements about their time in the PBS department.

Hanlon announced on Feb. 19 that the external investigator was “close to concluding her work,” and that, after the investigations were completed, disciplinary action following procedures in the Organization of the Faculty of Dartmouth College would be pursued.

Heatherton elected to retire on June 13. Whalen’s resignation followed suit on June 26 before Kelley retired on July 17, ending the sexual misconduct investigation. All three departures followed separate recommendations from the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Smith that their tenure be revoked and employment terminated.