Dartmouth, plaintiffs reach $14 million settlement in sexual misconduct lawsuit

by The Dartmouth Senior Staff | 8/6/19 1:11pm

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Dartmouth reached a settlement with the nine women suing the College for allegedly failing to act on reports of sexual misconduct by three former professors.

by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Dartmouth and the nine women suing the College for allegedly failing to act on reports of sexual misconduct by three former psychological and brain sciences professors have reached an out-of-court settlement totaling $14 million, College President Phil Hanlon announced in an email statement this morning. 

Pending approval by a federal judge of the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire, the settlement marks the resolution of the case, Rapuano et. al. v. Trustees of Dartmouth College, which was originally filed on Nov. 15, 2018. The suit alleged that over the span of 16 years, three former professors — Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen — turned the psychological and brain sciences department into a “21st century Animal House” involving a heavy drinking culture, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“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,” plaintiffs Sasha Brietzke, Annemarie Brown, Vassiki Chauhan, Andrea Courtney, Kristina Rapuano, Jane Doe, Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 wrote in a joint statement. 

The parties entered mediation on July 24 with the assistance of retired New Hampshire Superior Court judge Robert Morrill, and they concluded the process yesterday — the final day of the extension to mediation granted by Judge Landya McCafferty.

The joint press release stated that the resolution defined a settlement class including “all students who meet certain criteria and who certify that they endured a hostile environment” as a result of the conduct of the three professors. In addition to monetary compensation, the settlement outlines initiatives to identify and correct current issues related to gender-based violence and harassment as part of the College’s Campus Climate and Culture Initiative, which was introduced by Hanlon earlier this year.

The complete terms of the settlement will be filed in the federal district court in Concord, as well as made public on Dartmouth’s website and the webpage of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“I cannot express strongly enough my deep disappointment that these individuals violated their positions of trust to these, and other, students and members of our Community,” Hanlon wrote in the release. “Their conduct flies in the face of Dartmouth's mission and core values. That is why my colleagues and I moved to revoke their tenure. Through this process, we have learned lessons that we believe will enable us to root out this behavior immediately if it ever threatens our campus community again."

In their original court filing, the plaintiffs, asking for $70 million in damages, claimed that although Dartmouth knew about allegations against the three professors, the College did not act until women in the psychological and brain sciences department filed a Title IX complaint in 2017. The College initially rebutted many of the claims made in the suit in a later filing.

The successful mediation comes after a number of recent developments in the case. In May, two additional women signed on as anonymous plaintiffs to the lawsuit, adding additional allegations of sexual misconduct. In response, the College filed a motion asking the court to deny the granting of anonymity to the new plaintiffs when certifying them as members of the class, arguing that having the names kept private would “prejudice” Dartmouth’s ability to defend itself in the case. Dartmouth’s attempt to challenge the plaintiffs’ anonymity prompted a petition criticizing the College’s tactics signed by over 600 people, including presidential candidates Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ’88 (D-NY), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The Dartmouth first reported in Oct. 2017 that the College had placed the three former professors on leave for “serious misconduct.” A week later, Hanlon announced that the three professors were alleged to have engaged in sexual misconduct and that several local law enforcement agencies were investigating the case. The College conducted its own investigation led by an external investigator, and in the summer of 2018, a review process led dean of the faculty of arts and sciences Elizabeth Smith to recommend separately that the three professors’ employment be terminated and their tenure be revoked, after which Heatherton retired and Kelley and Whalen resigned.

On Aug. 20, the parties are scheduled to file with the Court a signed Stipulation and Agreement of Settlement and proposed schedule for this matter going forward.

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